There’s plenty riding on a job interview, and while the conversation matters, your body language can speak volumes about what you’re really thinking.
You know the drill for a job interview: Arrive on time, dress to impress and have some responses ready for questions the hiring manager is likely to ask.
But it’s also worth paying close attention to another aspect of the interview – your body language. The physical messages we send can be just as powerful as what we say. Being aware of your own body language, and that of the person on the other side of the desk, can help you nail the interview.
Let’s look at five main body parts – from head to toe – to know how to read body language in an interview, and leave a strong impression that you’re the right person for the role.
1) Your face – a wealth of expression
Meeting a stranger is never easy. In the context of a job interview it can be even harder as the cards are stacked in the hiring manager’s favour. However, a warm smile on meeting the interviewer can be a powerful ice breaker.
Not all smiles are created equal. The litmus test of a genuine smile is that you let the corners of your eyes crinkle, rather than just turning up the corners of your mouth.
A sincere smile is more than just contagious. It can demonstrate that you have an upbeat personality and a can-do attitude, both of which are highly sought-after.
2) Embrace the power of eye contact
Eye contact plays a critical role in a job interview. By maintaining eye contact you give off clear signals that you’re genuinely interested in the role, and in what the interviewer has to say. If holding the hiring manager’s gaze becomes too much, it’s perfectly natural to glance briefly at your notes. Just be sure to look directly at the interviewer when they are doing the talking.
The value of eye contact doesn’t lessen in different circumstances, it just needs to be adapted. At some stage of the hiring process for instance, you may find yourself facing an interview panel. That’s when you need to give each member of the panel equal eye contact when you speak. It can be demanding but it’s worth the effort. You never know which panellist will have the final say about whether you’re right for the role.
Similarly, you may be involved in a group interview, sharing the hiring manager’s attention with several other applicants. When other candidates are speaking, it’s important to give them full attention by making eye contact. Sure, they may be your competition, but taking the opportunity to flick some dust from your sleeve or stare around the room while they’re speaking can undo all your good work. It suggests a lack of interest in the opinions of others, and that’s definitely not a trait the hiring manager will be looking for.
On the flipside, if you find the hiring manager’s gaze is wandering, it could be a sign that they’re losing interest. Try to alter the tempo of your voice, or offer shorter, sharper responses. It may be that your answers are becoming a bit longwinded.
3) Your posture – subtle signs say a lot
An easy way to demonstrate a professional, confident outlook is by sitting up straight. Not ramrod straight – try to lean in slightly towards the interviewer and tilt your head a little to show you’re engaged by what’s being said.
Avoid lounging back with one arm thrown casually over the arm of the chair. It can give the impression of arrogance or an overly casual attitude. Conversely, hunching up, or lowering your chin into your chest can make you appear defensive.
Keep an eye on the hiring manager’s posture too. Aiming to replicate their posture can create the impression of being kindred spirits who think along the same professional lines. It’s a technique known as “mirroring”, but it needs to be used with subtlety. Don’t mimic the interviewer, which can be outright annoying. Rather, take cues from their posture to shape your own.
4) Speaking with your hands
Accompany that warm smile at the start of the job interview with a firm handshake. It doesn‘t need to be a knuckle-breaking grip, which can suggest dominance. Nor should it be a limp grasp, which speaks of insecurity. Try practicing your handshake with a friend until you feel you have it right. Quick tip: You know you’ll be expected to shake hands, so transfer any papers or notes to your left hand before you greet the hiring manager.
What you do with your arms and hands for the remainder of the interview is just as important. During the meeting, avoid sitting with your arms crossed. It creates a sense that you’re closed off to the interviewer and uninterested in what they have to say.
Many of us gesture with our hands, and that’s not a bad thing as it can show your passion about a topic. The trick is not to go overboard with wild arm swings or overly rapid hand movements that can quickly become annoying, and detract from what you’re saying. A good rule of thumb is to keep your hands above the desk and below your shoulders.
In the pressure cooker environment of a job interview, it’s easy to make hand gestures that you’re not even aware of, and it can work against you. Rubbing your chin, touching your lips, or playing with hair or jewellery are all movements that nerves can bring on. For the hiring manager though, it can suggest you’re uncomfortable rather than in command of the situation. If you don’t trust yourself, simply fold your hands on the desk. Chances are you’ll warm to the situation after the first few minutes and start to relax a little.
5) Legs can say plenty
Job interviews aren’t always conducted across a desk. You may be invited to sit on a low chair or couch around a coffee table. When that happens, your legs and even feet can speak volumes about how you feel.
As tempting as it may be to cross your legs, resist the urge. Much like arm-crossing, this can suggest that you’re shutting out the interviewer. A safer option is to sit with both legs together, with your feet pointed in the direction of the hiring manager. This shows you’re engaged in what they’re saying, and that you want to form a connection.
Just as repetitive hand gestures should be avoided, foot tapping can be sign of nerves, or worse, irritation and impatience. Keep both feet flat on the ground, and it’s hard to go wrong.
Practice makes perfect
As with all things in life, perfecting your body language in a job interview can call for practice. Try role-playing a few interviews with a friend or family member who will provide honest, constructive feedback.
We speak with far more than words alone, and mastering your body language is all part of the art of convincing the hiring manager that you’re the best candidate for the job.