Body language in a job interview

First published in AdXtra

If you’ve been invited for a job interview, it’s likely the prospective employer already thinks you can do the job on paper, so now comes the chance to prove yourself in person. But, it’s not only what you say that has an influence on the employer’s ultimate decision. It’s been stated that 93% of communication is non-verbal so, your body language is also of vital importance in a job interview as it’s one of the key things you can control.

First impressions

Research from Princeton University shows that it only takes a shocking one tenth of a second for us to make up our minds about other people so, when applying for a new job, first impressions really do count!

Sonia Hendy-Isaac, Senior Lecturer in Employer Engagement at Birmingham City University, has some tips on how to make the right first impression:

“Candidates often make the error of thinking their body language only counts once they're actually in the interview room itself - but it begins before you even walk into the building. First things first - ensure you are well presented, well groomed and that you dress appropriately for the environment. Matching your appearance to the organisation is key - it demonstrates a very simple 'mirroring' which infers to potential employers that you will 'fit in'.

“Remember to breathe (something that people often forget to do in stressful situations), stand tall and introduce yourself to reception or front of house. These members of staff are often asked for feedback in terms of how nervous/confident potential employees appear, so keep your voice balanced and controlled - those who maintain a lower tone of voice appear self-assured.  Remember that eye contact and a smile are always a great start - it demonstrates that you are pleasant, paying attention and approachable.

“If you're asked to take a seat and wait for your interviewer (you should be, you've arrived early!), check where is best and assume that you're already in interview mode. If possible, sit with your back against the chair/seat and observe the space – being able to mention something about the environment (such as a window display or the marketing material in the foyer) acts as a good icebreaker or opening comment.”

In the interview

When in the interview itself, it’s important to ensure you start with a firm handshake and a smile as this demonstrates your confidence.

The right body language can help you demonstrate other key things that interviewers are consciously or unconsciously looking for, by showing that you’re listening properly, knowledgeable, empathetic to the interviewer and open instead of defensive. Sonia adds, “There are five useful steps on how to achieve this:
•        Nod and smile in response to the information being given to show that you’re listening.
•        Do not cross your arms across your chest, and keep your palms open if possible to maintain an ‘open’ posture.
•        Demonstrate understanding by smiling and raising your eyebrows – this needs to be limited to a flash of eyebrow as an over-arched brow can look challenging or sarcastic.
•        When responding to questions maintain eye contact and use hand movements to support your position and appear confident. Remember to keep the gestures open and avoid pointing as this can appear aggressive.
•        If possible, very subtly mirror your interviewer’s body language to show empathy – you need to be careful not to do this too overtly. One of the safest and most effective ways to do this is to follow their forward/backward movements – i.e. lean in/back when they do.”
Try not to overthink the points above as, if it doesn’t feel natural, it probably won’t look natural. For instance, if you never use your hands when speaking it may look better for you to take notes while being interviewed to show that you’re paying attention and give you a place to put them.

But, it’s most important to remember that, however nervous you’re feeling, recruiters will only see how you behave. This is where not only preparing the answers you want to give the interviewer, but also spending some time thinking about your body language and how you will appear to them can really pay dividends.

For other tips on how to find jobs and prepare for interviews there are lots of online resources, such as www.reed.co.uk/careeradvice, that can help.

By reed.co.uk, the UK’s largest commercial job board

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