How To Improve Your Body Language During An Interview

Four ways to master your non-verbal communication

Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash

“Make sure you ask questions.”

“Research your potential employer.”

“Don’t forget to thank your interviewers for their time.”

While these are all great tips to give you a slight advantage over other candidates, what really makes you stand out during an interview is actually purely subconscious:

Your body language.

First impressions are critical — many interviewers have already come to a decision within the first 15 minutes of the interview. From the second you meet your interviewers, you should be mindful of your body — and how you can use it to send subliminal messages to give you an edge over everyone else.

Here are the top four ways that I recommend you use your body language to drastically improve your overall interview experience:

The Handshake

“A warm welcome starts with a warm handshake.”

The handshake is one of the most important parts of an interview. An interviewer might assume a lot about you based on this initial encounter:

Was their hand cold and clammy? Nervous.

Did they aggressively squeeze my hand? Trying too hard.

Did they not squeeze hard enough? Weak.

A million thoughts will run through the interviewer’s mind (both actively and subconsciously) as soon as you create that initial physical contact. The goal is to establish rapport with your interviewer, and this starts with the handshake.

It is difficult to know how hard to grasp someone’s hand before you actually do so. In the case of an interview, you should always return the same amount of pressure that you are given. Any more, and you will be seen as over aggressive. Any less, and you will appear inferior. An even amount of pressure will communicate that you are their equal — no more, no less.

No one wants to shake a cold and clammy hand. If you are interviewing in the winter and your hands are cold from being outside, or the AC is being blasted in the office, you should warm them up before going for that critical handshake. Whether this means sitting on them while waiting in reception or going to the bathroom and running them under hot water, your primary focus should be to prevent a cold handshake. If you tend to have sweaty hands, it is good practice to carry around a handkerchief in your pocket so you can dry off the sweat/moisture prior to shaking hands with your interviewer.

A cold, wet, and weak handshake, often referred to as the dead-fish handshake, is noticeably uncomfortable and signals to your interviewer that you are nervous, uncomfortable, mediocre, etc.

Don’t get labeled with these negative connotations — warm up your hands before the big handshake!

Chair Position

“I felt like I was being interrogated.”

When you walk into the room, you will probably be asked to take a seat at a desk or table across from your interviews. If you sit directly across from them to begin your interview, it will feel just that: like an interview.

Now I’m not saying you should take the liberty to kick the interviewer out of his seat and take that one instead (maybe one day after you get the job!). Instead, what you should do is make the interview feel more like a friendly conversation.

You can do this by angling your chair so that you and your interviewer are not staring at each other head-on. This chair movement can be done subtly as you are taking your seat, and only needs to be slight, anywhere from a 30 to 45 degree angle (turning the chair 90 degrees to face the wall would raise some questions). If you are unable to move the chair, you can just turn your body to get the same effect. This slight adjustment subconsciously protects your vital frontal organs from a “head-on attack” and also avoids putting you in a “reprimanding” position. Your objective is to make the interview feel less like an interview, and more like a friendly discussion.

Mirroring

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Let’s face it — people like people who are similar to them. Whether someone looks like you, dresses like you, or has the same interests as you, people will naturally be drawn towards those with similarities. Interviewers want to hire people who share common interests and goals that align with themselves, and you can use this to your advantage.

Instead of trying to awkwardly force common interests with your interviewers by telling an irrelevant story, you can use your body to make them subconsciously think you are alike by mirroring their actions.

What you should not do copy their exact movements gesture for gesture as soon as they appear. This will come off as offensive as it will seem like you are mocking them, and will guarantee that you will have to look elsewhere for a job. For example, if the interviewer scratches their head and then folds their hands on the table, you probably should not immediately scratch your own head and then mimic their hands on the table.

Instead, what you should do is try to seamlessly include similar movements that flow with the conversation. If your interviewer talks with their hands, you should try to incorporate more hand motions while you speak. When they smile, you should smile back. If they sit back in their chair, you might also want to wait a few moments and then lean back a little.

If done right, these little changes to your actions will subconsciously make your interviewers see you as similar to themselves.

Eye Contact

“We really saw eye-to-eye.”

We are always told to make strong eye contact to establish rapport with others. While this is partially true, there is a limit to how much eye contact you should make before it starts getting unnatural. In an ordinary conversation, it is perfectly normal to glance away while talking. In fact, it is actually quite difficult to tell a story while maintaining complete eye contact. Humans remove visual stimuli in order to recollect thoughts and remember events more clearly. This is why oftentimes, people will close their eyes when trying to remember detailed events or look off into the distance when speaking about vivid memories.

Generally, when speaking conversationally with an interviewer, you want your gaze to meet theirs about 60% to 70% of the time — this shows that you are interested and engaged, while still allowing the conversation to flow naturally. The typical gaze will fall in the triangle that is formed between your nose and eyes. Any higher, you are looking at their forehead which makes for a very uncomfortable feeling, and any lower, your interviewer might begin to question your real intentions as to why you are there.

If your eyes start to fall below the nose towards the mouth and beyond, this is seen as more intimate and romantic — probably not the atmosphere you want to create during an interview. Gazing at one’s forehead is seen as a power gaze and is perceived as intimidating. Next time you are having a conversation with someone and want to make them wildly uncomfortable, start shifting your gaze to their forehead. You will begin to see why this should not be done during an interview!

Someone who only meets another’s gaze around 1/3 of the time will be seen as shy or shifty-eyed, both of which are not great qualities to have as a label in an interview. At the other end, someone who holds eye contact 90% to 100% of the time and does not break it might be tagged as aggressive or creepy, also not ideal for an interview (or frankly any situation).

Since it is more difficult to hold eye contact while speaking, you want to make up for it with more eye contact while listening. If you are actively listening to your interviewer, making eye contact, nodding your head, and other signs of agreement and approval will come instinctively. Remember, the interview is not only a time for the company/organization to see what you bring to the table, but also for you to learn more about your potential employer. Listening is key!

Wrapping It Up

“People may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Body language — how you communicate non-verbally — often speaks louder than words. From the way you sit to the way you make eye contact, everything your body says during an interview helps paint a picture to your interviewer of who you are. Your goal is to not only demonstrate that you have the skills for the position, but also show that you are a trustworthy and likable candidate. People who are unaware of their body language will often fail to realize that they are portraying non-verbal messages that contradict everything they are actually speaking.

If you can master your body language, you can illustrate to employers that you are open, honest, and engaging, helping to give you an advantage over all other candidates — without even saying a word.

Cybersecurity Engineer by day, chess player by night. In my free time I like to study body language, write code, and play a little too much poker.

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