People say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Yet, that’s exactly what the human mind does over and over. It also manifests in interview body language. The human mind tends to make as many decisions as it can be based on minimal information. This happens in almost all human interactions including a job interview.
In a job interview, the goal of the interviewer is to not only assess your skills and qualifications but also to decode your personality, body language and attitude. So an interviewer’s mind is scanning you for clues from the very moment you enter the room. Your body language and other non-verbal signals will undoubtedly create an impression in the interviewer’s mind. This can influence their decision to select you.
Body posture and walking style
Ideally, you should have an erect posture most of the time. A straight back indicates alertness and attentiveness. You don’t want to walk into the room with your shoulders hunched and feeling tired. If you had to travel a long distance to appear for the interview and a are a bit tired, relax and take a tea or a coffee break before you appear for the interview. Try anything that may freshen you up. The problem is that your tiredness may be perceived as a lack of interest on your part.
Your walking style should neither be too slow nor too fast. Walking slowly may be perceived as laziness and unwillingness, and walking too fast may signal nervousness or desperateness. Under no circumstances do you want your interviewer to think that you’re desperate for the job. That would make them think that you’re unskilled and incompetent.
Sitting in the chair
Being mindful of your body language whilst sitting in the chair and interacting with your interviewer can go a long way in enabling you to send positive messages. Ideally, you want to display all the gestures that you can which indicate openness, alertness, interest, and attentiveness. Try avoiding all the gestures that signal the opposite.
For instance, avoid slouching back in your chair as it’s a strong indicator of a lack of interest and laziness. Also, you don’t want to lean forward too much as this would ‘close’ you up for the interviewer. Ideally, you want an erect posture with a slight forward lean that signals interest.
Avoid body language gestures that close you up such as crossing the arms and legs. Avoid erecting a barrier between you and the interviewer. It’s usually done by placing a mug, book, laptop, etc. on the table between you and the interviewer.
What you do with your hands can also create an impression in the interviewer’s mind. When people are nervous, anxious or in a hurry, they tend to vigorously tap their fingers, and sometimes feet. Nervousness, anxiety and hurry are signals you don’t want to send so avoid all vigorous tapping and shaking. Also, avoid using your hands to form a barrier between you and the interviewer.
Also, avoid scratching your face, neck and head because these send negative signals. Do it only if have an itch that you badly want to get rid of. Try using the steeple gesture of the hands when you’re talking. It gives the impression that you’re confident and know what you’re talking about.
When it comes to eye contact, the more the better. Aim for maintaining eye contact 70% of the time. You don’t want to continuously stare into the eyes of your interviewer. It makes people feel uncomfortable and you don’t want to shift your eyes away as soon as you make eye contact. It makes feel people feel unimportant. Find that balance by holding eye contact for some time and then shifting your eyes away and then back again. This makes the other person feel that you’re comfortable talking to them and are talking naturally without any pressure to gain their approval or a fear of rejection.
Another way to get comfortable with your interviewer is by establishing rapport using techniques such as mirroring. You can do this by observing the interviewer’s gestures and copying them. However, it needs to be done slowly and carefully or you might freak out the interviewer.
For example, if you notice that your interviewer has clasped their hands, you can copy this gesture by first bringing your hands together so that they’re barely touching each other. Then you can start clasping them partially and after some time, fully. You don’t have to copy each and every gesture of your interviewer. Focus on the gesture that they’ve made for a while. When they undo the gesture, you undo it too but again, slowly, so as not to make it apparent.
Customize your body language
While there are traits that almost all the interviewers are looking for in job candidates such as leadership, confidence, openness, diligence, etc., it’s possible that a certain job may require more of a certain trait.
For example, a customer service job requires the candidate to be a good listener and communicator. If you’re applying for this type of job, you can customize your body language to send signals that convince the interviewer that you have these skills. For instance, nodding more often and rephrasing some of the sentences of your interviewer (along the lines of “So you’re saying…”) will give the impression that you’re a good listener.
You should not only be mindful of your own body language but also be cognizant of your interviewer’s body language. You have to make sure you understand as much as you can about the emotions and attitudes of your interviewer and respond to them accordingly.
Say the interviewer asks you about a hobby and you go on talking about it. If, during this time, you notice any negative body language signal (such as boredom indicated by resting chin on the hand) then you should cut the topic short and move on to another topic. When you’re talking about the things that generate interest (leaning forward) in your interviewer, elaborate on the topic as much as you desire.
Hanan Parvez (M.B.A., M.A. Psychology) has written 300+ articles at www.psychmechanics.com, a blog with over 3 million views and 100k monthly visitors. His work has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur.