We’ve all been there. Nervously waiting in the lobby for an upcoming interview mulling over what to say, how to say it and trying to anticipate all the possible questions that will get thrown our way, all so we can try to get one leg up on the other candidates and hopefully land that job!
And that’s great. Those are all definitely important things to think over but there’s another aspect to the interview that many people probably aren’t taking into consideration, and that’s body language.
What is body language? Good question.
In essence it’s the nonverbal communication that occurs between people on a subconscious level. It goes below the tennis match of spoken words that is the actual conversation of an interaction.
And let’s be real, it takes a certain degree of emotional IQ to recognize the body language of others, and respond to it accordingly.
Ever heard the phrase, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”? Well there’s quite a bit of truth to that.
When it comes to communication, only 7% of what’s being conveyed is actually carried out through spoken words. The remainder comes from body language and tone, which account for 55% and 38% of the overall communication respectively.
Although there is importance to what you say, maybe we’re disproportionately focusing on the one aspect of our communication. Maybe we should instead focus on the other aspects that make up the majority of what makes a great first impression.
Do you want to be 93% more effective in how you interact with others? If the answer to that question is yes, then read on.
As mentioned earlier, tone can account for 38% of what is being communicated on a subconscious level and for many people this actually makes a lot of sense intuitively.
In and of itself this seems like it would be a pretty straight forward statement. You want someone to take a seat. However, depending on the tone that’s taken in making this statement, there can be great degree of variation in its connotation.
For example, when spoken in a loud, angry and authoritarian manner much as a parent might say when reprimanding their child, the meaning is clear that the parent means business. The volume and anger convey to the child that there is a great level of disapproval in regards to the topic of discussion that is to follow.
Conversely, if that same statement is made in a calm and collected fashion much like a friend might say to another when having them over as guests, it now portrays a sense of welcoming and friendliness. It’s clear to that friend that what’s to follow should be a very enjoyable conversation which contrasts greatly from our previous example.
As such it’s definitely important to pay attention to your tone when speaking to someone during your interview. A bit of advice, it’s best to make sure you sound confident and happy as the recruiter or hiring manager will more likely get a sense that not only are you serious about this job opportunity but also very capable to handle the responsibilities that come with it.
This can be an especially difficult aspect of body language to master for the more introverted individuals, but nonetheless it’s a very important aspect of what makes a great first impression. Too little eye contact can portray a lack of confidence or give the other person a sense that you may be hiding something. Too much eye contact and you may come off as overly aggressive which can actually leave just as bad of an impression, but on the other end of the spectrum.
Knowing just the right amount of eye contact to maintain during a conversation can definitely be a bit of an enigmatic subject for some, but here are some pointers that should make things a little easier.
Use the 50/70 rule.
As a general rule of thumb, when speaking you should try to maintain eye contact about 50% of the time and 70% when listening. The latter is particularly important because it conveys to the other person a sense of genuine interest and makes them feel as though you are truly hearing what they’re saying. If you find that it’s difficult to gauge this ratio, another best practice could be to simply match the other person’s level of eye contact.
Maintain eye contact for about 4-5 seconds at a time.
If you maintain eye contact for a shorter period of time than prescribed above you may come across as someone who is too nervous or unconfident. Maintain eye contact for longer than 5 seconds and you can verge on the side of coming across as aggressive or even creepy, which may trigger the other person’s fight or flight response and ultimately leave them with a bad first impression.
Imagine a triangle between the person’s eyes and mouth.
This is the area of a person’s face that most people tend to focus on in typical business and social interactions. It’s important to keep this in mind because if you focus solely on someone’s pupils this might again trigger their fight or flight response. You can avoid this by imagining this triangle as it allows you to maintain “eye contact” without coming across as aggressive or creepy.
The mouth can be very telling of how someone is feeling which is why we intuitively know that a smile means someone is happy and a frown means someone is sad. This may seem so simple and obvious but it’s also possibly the reason why people too easily overlook its importance in a job interview.
As many of us are told, you should definitely smile when first walking into your job interview.
This is because humans have a natural sense of reciprocity. When an individual sees another smiling, they will very often mirror that smile. That act of getting someone to smile will subconsciously get them on the track of enjoying that particular interaction.
What’s less obvious, and what some people might sometimes miss, are gestures like the pursed lips.
If during the course of a conversation, you happen to catch the other person purse their lips, even if just for a moment, it would behoove you to take notice. Depending on the context it may indicate disbelief in what was just said and so it could be an opportunity for you to clarify further should that be appropriate. In other cases it may mean the individual doesn’t agree with what is being said and could be your cue to quickly skirt on to another topic.
Should you happen to catch the other person place a finger over their mouth during your discourse, it’s a sign that the individual is trying to hold back from speaking by literally blocking their mouth. As such, and again only if appropriate, you may want to ask for their thoughts or opinions on what was just said so you can clear the air before those hesitations come back to haunt you later in the interviewing process.
Lastly if you see someone looking intently and biting on something such as the arms of their glasses or a pen, it means that individual is thinking deeply to themselves. If you notice this gesture you may not blurt out more information just to fill the silence. It may actually be a better course of action to allow them some time to gather their thoughts.
Some other gestures that indicate deep thinking are the rubbing of the chin and placement of their fingers on their temples. Though do be careful because if this gesture is paired with a furrowed brow, it could instead be an indication of frustration.
The arms are another telling and therefore important aspect of body language to be paying attention to during the interview.
Crossed arms for example are often an indicator that there is some sort of disagreement in the other person’s mind. Subconsciously people cross their arms to put a literal barrier between them and the other person their speaking to.
Therefore, if you see this gesture during an interaction it should be a cue that something is not sitting well with the other person. Of course there is a bit of context to take into consideration though as it can also mean that the other individual may simply be cold but in an office setting this is more than likely not going to be the case.
Something else to keep in mind is that during an interview you’re there to get a sense of the company as much as the hiring manager is trying to get a sense for your fit at their organization. So, if during one of your questions the recruiter or hiring manager starts to cross their arms during their response, it could mean that what there’s something more than what they’re revealing to you directly as they are literally but subconsciously trying to guard themselves.
Another arm gesture that is worth noting is when the arm is being used as a rest for the head. This is a big indicator of a person’s boredom. The heavier the head leans on a single arm, the greater the degree of boredom.
Should you find that you are going on at length about a particular response to a question take not as to whether the other person starts to lean their head against one of their arms as it should be a cue for you to quickly finish your final thoughts and allow the conversation to continue on to other topics. Most typically this will occur with the arm being further supported by the arms of their chair, though it’s also possible that it may occur against the table which would actually be a bigger indication that you should move on.
Since we’re focusing on body language here, it’s only fitting that we also touch on the body itself.
Though body posture isn’t quite as revealing as some of the other gestures we’ve covered so far, there is still some insights you can gather by how someone chooses to orient their body.
For example, when two people are aligned in thought often times their body postures will be aligned as well. You can actually see this in action in everyday life. When two friends or lovers might be out for dinner, they may often find themselves mirroring each other’s postures at multiple points during the course of their conversations.
This phenomenon is fairly subconscious and is indicative of the two people’s agreeable attitudes towards each other. Interestingly enough, though this often happens subconsciously, if used correctly you can better work towards someone’s favor by mimicking his or her body posture consciously.
If the interviewer is leaning towards one side more predominantly than the other you can slowly, during the course of your conversation, start to shift your body to lean in a fashion such that you are mirroring them. The same can be said about the positioning of your arms. You could of course apply this to your legs as well but in most interview situations interviewers and candidates are sitting down so this particular strategy might not be relevant in all interviewing situations.
One thing to keep note of though is that in order for this strategy to truly be effective, it must be used correctly. Pay special attention to shifting your body posture slowly and naturally with the flow of the conversation because if you simply copy the other person with every movement they make, not only will you be giving yourself away but you will come off as insincere which will completely go against the whole purpose of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Now that you’ve had a chance to read through this article the next time you walk into an interview you can step in with a little more confidence knowing that you have the power of body language on your side.
In summary, some of the things you want to be paying attention to are tone, eyes, mouth, arms, and body.
When thinking about tone, try to project a sense of happiness and confidence to demonstrate that you’re eager and capable for the job at hand. Also pay close attention to the tone of the interviewer when they respond to your comments or questions.
Maintain strong eye contact. If it’s particular difficult for you to maintain staring at someone’s eyes, try to imagine a triangle with the eyes and mouths creating the corner to make it a bit easier for yourself. Also try to keep your eye contact for spurts of 4-5 seconds at a time. Maintaining eye contact for less than that period of time can show a lack of confidence and too much longer can come across as over aggressive or possibly even creepy.
Pay attention to the interviewer’s mouth as it can give a lot of clues as to how they feel about a particular statement. If they’re smiling after you’ve responded to one of their questions, you’ll know you’re on a good track.
However, pursed lips or a slight frown should be your cue to remedy the situation if possible. Don’t force it though. Always keep in mind the context of the conversation or situation and follow suit such that it’s a natural progression in the interaction.
Also look at the person’s arms. Ideally you want them to be open as it’s a sign that someone is mentally open to what you’re saying as well. Be ware of the crossed arms as that is most likely a sign that they’re not taking well to what is being said.
Lastly, use body posture to your advantage. Though mirroring people’s body posture is most often done on a subconscious level when they find each other agreeable, you can still use the phenomenon to your advantage in a conscious manner. Just be careful not to overdo it as you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot by making it obvious that you’re simply trying to mirror them. Do this by transitioning your body slowly and at a pace that’s natural to your conversation.
Now go out there and use these powers of body language to ace your next job interview. Good luck!