How Important is Body Language During an Interview?

By | 5 months ago

No one can argue with this: whether it is your first interview or your first interview in several years, the process is stressful. Preparation is key, and we’ve all heard how important it is to research the company. Equally important, though, is how we appear. A TED talk by Ann Cuddy highlighted this as she talked about the relationship between posture and power. According to Cuddy, doing the power pose—standing with your hands on your hips like a superhero—gives you more confidence. Her book, “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges” (Little Brown 2015), talks about how a number of different power poses can make you feel more confident.

The thing about power poses is that most people don’t even think about them. They either slouch or stand up straight; look at the person they are talking to or look away; cross their arms across their chests or don’t; and so on. Consciously preparing for an interview—or any important meeting—can help you appear more poised and self-assured.

Only 7 percent of daily communication is verbal.

Thinking about power poses got me thinking about what happens in interviews. The messages we subconsciously give out and those we take in. The ways we show who we are and the ways we don’t.

One statistic was especially noteworthy: 93 percent of all daily communication is nonverbal (only 7% of any message is verbal, 38% is conveyed through voice inflection, and 55% is communicated through body language.)

That’s pretty amazing. Knowing that, why wouldn’t you think about including nonverbal communication into your interview prep? You already prepare by researching the company and practicing answers to likely interview questions. Paying attention to the nonverbal aspects of the interview and rehearsing (yes, rehearsing) can be the difference between getting your dream job or not.

And don’t forget it works both ways. Be aware of your interviewer’s body language, too. It may tell you whether this truly is the job you want.

Body Language

Here are 10 important body language cues to pay attention to during an interview:

1. The handshake. Not too firm; not too wimpy; just right. Handshakes are likely to be the first personal interaction you have with your interviewer, so it’s important. If you tend to have sweaty palms when you are nervous, consider using an antiperspirant. Clammy hands are a turnoff. And another thing: as you shake hands, be sure to look into the person’s eyes.

2. The smile. You may never have thought about this, but there is a real difference between a false smile and a real one. When you are truly smiling, your eyes crinkle. When you are faking it, your smile doesn’t reach your eyes. Don’t over smile. No one expects to smile straight through an interview, and you shouldn’t either. When you aren’t smiling, be sure you have a pleasant, interested expression on your face.

3. Personal space. When you are with someone you don’t know or only know casually, a generally accepted rule-of-thumb is not to stand closer that three to four feet. A corollary is not to touch the person, for example on the arm or shoulder.

4. Eye contact. Maintaining eye contact is a good thing, but not if you hold the other person’s gaze for too long. If you are interviewing with more than one person, be sure to engage them all. A good thing to do to help break eye contact (and give you something to do with your hands) is bringing along a notebook. This allows you to look down and take notes whenever you feel the need without appearing to be disengaging.

5. Leg position. Once you are seated for the interview, you need to figure out what to do with your arms and legs. Not easy. The best option is keeping your feet flat on the floor; knees together. Crossing your legs is okay, but If you opt to do that, make sure they are crossed all the way or you may appear too casual. Don’t cross your ankles because that signals nervousness. (FYI, crossing your legs during a negotiation indicates low receptivity, so keep your feet on the floor if you are negotiating your salary.) Whatever leg position you choose, try not to change it too often because that is distracting.

6. Arm position. Arm position can be a little tricky because most of us use our hands and arms when we speak. Do use your hands naturally when you speak, but when you are not speaking, the best advice is to keep your hands in your lap. Caveat: don’t clamp them so tightly that your knuckles turn white.

7. Open palms. When you are using your hands, keep in mind that open palms generally denote honesty.

8. Arms crossed across your chest. Don’t do it. It is generally accepted that this posture signals defensiveness. You don’t want to look like you are putting a wall between you and your interviewer.

9. Shoulder shrugging. Everyone shrugs their shoulders sometimes, but it considered a signal that you don’t understand what is going on. If you find do shrug, try to counter the action by asking for clarification of the question.

10. Mirror the interviewer. This may sound a little strange, and it will take some practice, but mirroring what your interviewer is doing—smiling, leaning in the same direction, nodding—can influence how s/he feels about the interview. That’s because we all tend to like people who are like us.

It’s a two-way street

Remember, body language is a two-way street. As much as your interviewer can tell from your cues, you can tell from theirs. Is s/he making regular eye contact or looking at his/her watch? How about facial expressions—smiling or uninterested?

If you want to read more about body language, Ann Cuddy’s book can be enlightening. There are other experts in the area as well, including Jan Hargrave  and Mark Bowden.