Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Importance Of Body Language During An Interview

Throughout my years in executive recruitment, I have come across a number of candidates who have impressive qualifications, are extremely intelligent and possess great management skills, and are well prepared with responses to tough interview questions. But quite often, I receive less than desirable feedback from clients who said that these individuals do not appear confident, seems uninterested, or appears to be too uptight. The worst I have heard goes “I don’t feel he is a person I can trust… eyes were darting around when I spoke to him and his handshake was so flaky…” Don’t’ laugh… it is a true encounter. Happened about three years ago to a candidate I was representing, and this individual is a senior level management type.

What happened? You might ask … yes, all of us should rightfully ask that question. I asked the same question too then. After probing into the details, I finally came to the conclusion – all the individuals who received such negative feedback had one common error, and that error comes in the form of body language they displayed during the interview.

Body language
is widely known as a form of non-verbal communication involving the use of the body, and according to some researchers, they put the “level of nonverbal communication as high as 80 percent of all communication”. Others have put it “more reasonably at around 50-65 percent”. A research done by Albert Mehrabian in 1971 noted “a 7%-38%-55% rule, denoting how much communication was conferred by words, tone, and body language”.

Given the results of the extensive research done on modes of communications, it would be correct to say that body language plays an important part in the way our messages are perceived by others. And since an interview is all about communicating, it would logically be related that body language plays an equally important part during the interviewing process.

I am not about to write on body language or on the different modes of communications, simply because it is too huge a topic and I must admit I am no expert on this subject matter. However, based on my past experience as an executive recruiter and current professional encounters as a Career Consultant, and help enlisted from my current co-workers, ex-colleagues and associates, I have compiled quite a lot of useful notes in order for me to present an article on the top 10 tips to ensure good interview body language.

Armed with these tips, I hope that all the preparation you do for a job interview isn't in vain because your body language will play a critical part to a job interview success.

Now, moving on to the juicy parts…

Breathe deeply

One of the best ways to relax before an important interview is to breathe deeply. If you breathe deeply, not only are you relaxing by slowing your rapid, nervous heartbeat, you're also ensuring that your brain has as much oxygen as possible. This means that you'll be able to think clearly at your interview and be able to respond to difficult questioning more rapidly. Breathing deeply before an interview will provide you with the effective combination of being relaxed and alert at the same time.

Try it now and see how it feels.


You need to practice a relaxed, sincere smile. A good smile has the power to say, “I'm a happy, confident person and I'd love to work here”. Try practicing smiling in a mirror. Get a family member to look at your smile and give you their feedback. How do they feel? What does your smile tell them?

Practice a smile that puts people at ease. It's just as much your responsibility to ensure that there is a relaxed atmosphere during the interview. I was told by one of my co-workers that he actually said to a client, “If you're embarrassed about your smile, see what a dentist can do about it. The dental job might not cost too much to fix your teeth, and it will save you a lot of money if you get your job!”

Eye Contact

There's nothing more disconcerting to an interviewer than the interviewee being unable to make regular, good eye contact. The interviewer may think that because you're unable to do this, you either have something to hide, lying about something or may not have the conviction of what you’re saying to him or her.

If you're struggling to concentrate when looking straight into someone else's eyes, you could try looking in-between their eyes….they won't be able to tell that you aren't looking straight into their eyes, and you'll find it easier to maintain focus. Try it with a friend first to see what I mean.

Make sure that your eyes sparkle

It's all very well having good eye contact at your interview, but if your eyes aren't looking bright and interested then you're making life difficult for yourself! Make sure that you have a good night's sleep prior to your interview. Remember this is a very important day and you need to look your best and have no bags under your eyes!

Open Body Language – positioning your arms & legs

Make sure that your legs are slightly apart if you're a gent. Place your hands apart, on your thighs is good. Open body language is even more important when the interviewer is talking. It demonstrates that you are receptive to the question and actively listening. More importantly, it tells the other party you are interested in what they’re saying.

Again, try practicing this with a family member or a close friend first. Remember to take a note of what to do with each part of your body. Unless you do that and remember, you're leaving it to chance that your body language come across well at your job interview.

One other major no-no during an interview is to fold your arms across your chest. I have heard (and seen) too many people doing that (consciously or unconsciously) during an interview. If you do just that, you have created an invisible barrier between yourself and the interviewer. Not a good sign.

Don't slouch

It's easy to appear as if you slouch too much. This is especially prevalent if you're asked to site in a large, soft seat. Try not to appear too relaxed. Not sitting right back in the seat is a good idea. If you sit forward, it makes you look more attentive and more interested. Some people slouch because they're not very interested. Other people slouch because they have bad body language. Either way an interviewer isn't going to be too impressed.

Try practicing in a mirror at home.

Don't be too erect (rigid)

If you're too erect (rigid) then you won't appear relaxed. If an experienced interviewer is interviewing you then they might put this down to stage fright and not confident. They might just judge you on what you're saying rather than how uptight you appear. However, if you're interviewer isn't too experienced then they might not feel relaxed either because of your posturing. They could leave the interview with a feeling that you weren't as good as the other person simply because you were too erect (rigid).

No good either way. Try to relax but not too much!

Be engaged

It's important to be subtly positive at your job interview. You need to demonstrate that you're actively taking part in the interview. When your interviewer is telling you about the job role and company, make sure that you nod subtly. This shows that you are listening and are interested in what they are saying. It shows that you are engaged in the discussion process and want to be part of the organization.

Failing to do this will hurt your chances of a next round of interview or worst, cost you that much desired job.

Accept an offer of a glass of water

You may not feel like having a glass of water, but taking a sip from a glass of water can have a calming effect on your interview performance. It can give you an opportunity to collect your thoughts while refreshing you. It will also give you a chance to get used to the surroundings while the interviewer is out of the room getting the glass of water. This will also give you're the opportunity to gather your thoughts and decide upon any amendments to your interview strategy as well as reviewing your prepared responses to questions.

Practice your handshake (VERY IMPORTANT)

So many people haven't got the right 'professional' handshake. Remember that this is part of the FIRST and LAST impression that you leave at the interview. If you have a weak, limp handshake then this tells the interviewer that you may not have the ability to deal with confrontation. On the other hand, if your handshake is too strong, then you may not be a good listener. You may be quite confident about controlling a situation, but you may be less likely to be democratic in approach. To demonstrate the happy medium, have a firm but not hard grip, make good eye contact at the same time and mirror the style of the person whose hand you are shaking.

In summary, mirroring is the key. If you're able to subtly copy the tonality of your interviewer's body language, you'll find it much easier to communicate because you'll be speaking the same silent body language. At the same time, it helps build rapport with the other person. This will put you streets ahead of the competition in the race for your dream job.

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