How can body language be used effectively in an interview situation?
Multiple studies have demonstrated how body language influences our perceptions of each other, with some analysts putting it far above verbal communication in terms of importance. In a job interview situation it becomes even more important, as interacting with strangers tends to increase our awareness of our own and others’ body language.
Thinking about how you present yourself in an interview situation is part of the preparation. You’ve probably already intuited the need to ‘be natural’ and ‘speak clearly’ and the countless other platitudes doled out to us ahead of important meetings. For advice that’s a bit more practical, read on…
Before the Interview
You’ll need to be in full control of your physical self in order to project a positive image. If a gym session, a run, swim or yoga are part of your regime, have a short session on the day of the interview. Exercise can help release tension, leaving you clear minded and alert, focused only on the task at hand. Eat a healthy breakfast but avoid coffee. Ok, avoid having more than one coffee – it makes you more jittery than focused.
Just prior to the interview, take control of your posture. Stretching your back and taking long strides will help you enter the interview with confidence.
During the Interview
Here are a few practical tips on how to hold yourself during the interview itself:
Smile. Easily forgotten in stressful situations, a strong smile can differentiate you from other candidates and – combined with eye contact – will immediately engage your audience in what you’re saying. Plus, smiling has been shown to reduce stress levels, both in the smiler and the observer.
Be alert. Don’t tuck your limbs into your chair or slouch. Sit up, with your chest open and your shoulders straight.
Be comfortable. You should be alert and upright, but not stiff. If you need water, ask for some. If you feel more comfortable holding a pen then do so – but make sure you’re not constantly playing with it or – horror! – clicking it. If you’re fidgety you’ll seem like you don’t want to be there, which is not a good look for someone purporting to want to spend their waking hours at the office.
Tilt your head. Slightly tilting your head to the side when you meet someone shows deference and trust (note the behaviour of dogs who lie down and expose their necks when confronted with a more dominant animal – it’s a signal that they don’t want trouble.) Tilting your head causes the listener to trust what you are saying.
Mimic your interviewer. A tricky one. If you don’t think you can get away with this without looking like you’re taking the mickey, it’s best avoided. But research has shown that imitating other people’s nonverbal gestures can help you empathise with their experience. By (subtly) copying those expressions, you’re interviewer will perceive the interaction as more positive.
Slow it down. Avoid frantic speech and movement. The slower and more deliberate your physical movements, the more you’ll project an air of being in control. Again, proportion is crucial: if you start sounding like Forrest Gump, you’ve gone too far.
Remember that an interview is just a conversation. You’ve had plenty of experience. While keeping the suggestions above in mind, don’t approach the interview as a performance. Try taking a video of yourself being interviewed by a friend. Review it, looking for nervous tics that you may not be aware of. You don’t have to eliminate them entirely, just ensure that you’re not doing anything too distracting with your body. Lose the bad habits, be relaxed and practice holding yourself with poise, confidence and a healthy dash of deference. Body language is universal; once you’ve learned how to use it in one interview, you can apply those lessons to other stressful situations.
Marc is a Director of The Talent Hive and leads our IT recruitment practice. Originally from the UK, Marc has been living in Christchurch, New Zealand for ten years and working in the recruitment sector for just as long. Marc has worked as an in-house recruiter and within multinational recruitment consultancies and independent SME recruitment businesses.
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Categorised as: Career Development, Job Seeker Advice