Body Language Tips For Job Interviews | by Dean Gee | Jun, 2023

Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash

They expose serial killers and how they act and think, or so goes the story in a series I am watching. The FBI BAU (Behavioural Analysis Unit) employs behavioural analysts who can spot a liar when solving murders.

They base their powers of detection on everything from the pitch of the voice to the manner of speaking and, of course, body language.

I recall years ago doing a business presentation skills course and we were told that the actual content of our presentation counted only for around 20% of the impression that we leave on audiences.

Politicians worldwide rejoiced in this study, no doubt because much of the content of what they say is complete nonsense, half-truths, or just blatant lies, excuse my cynicism, just been on the planet a while, and like many I feel disillusioned.

Politicians would take comfort in the research that showed as long as they can look good saying stuff, or at least look competent, they will win favour with the electorate.

Politicians spend huge wads of cash for body language experts and image consultants to help them with their public persona when delivering speeches.

So how does this body language research relate to us?

If we create 80% of the impression others have of us through body language best we learn what to do when being interviewed.

Remember, communication is a two-way street. As interviewees, we can also analyze the interviewer’s body language to gauge what responses or actions to take.

Interviews can be daunting. I have been through several high-pressure interviews throughout my working life, and some have been panel interviews, which are challenging.

Body language comprises gestures and postures, tone of voice, eye contact, etc.

Let’s look at what ‘language’ we should speak with our bodies when being interviewed.

We all get butterflies in our stomachs. The trick is to make them fly in formation.

The adage of ‘calm as a duck on a lake,’ where the duck’s feet are working furiously propelling it forward, but the work is done underwater, so the duck looks perfectly calm on the surface. That is the type of image you want to portray in an interview.

Michael Caine said it best ‘Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.’.. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/michael_caine_140815

It’s a given that your mind will work hard, but the impression you need to portray is calm, confident, and clear thinking.

Posture

On entering the interview, make sure your posture is open and confident, not tense but a good upright posture, but relaxed, without slouching.

Make eye contact with the person speaking to you. Resting your back against the backrest of the chair is good, as long as you aren’t slouching.

Sitting slightly forward and ‘leaning in’ to the conversation shows you are interested in their questions, then leaning back to think and answer shows you are thoughtful and contemplating what they have asked.

Facial expressions

Keep eye contact and have a happy disposition on your face, we are often told to smile a lot, but that can make you look a little like you may just be knitting with one needle, or, the wheel is turning but the hamster is dead. Grinning and smiling too much does not work and can irritate people, and lead them to think you are a lunatic.

A neutral expression and now and then slight smile are better facial expressions to use. Showing that you have a serious but pleasant demeanour.

You can use your eyes and eyebrows to express surprise or interest in what is being said. Once again, don’t overdo it, keep it natural. You are not in some animated movie.

Nodding and tilting the head if used in moderation are also good, as they show an interest in the conversation, and can show support and empathy.

Arms and hands

One trick they used in the business presentation skills course was to record us and then we all got to watch the recording at a higher speed, to highlight what we do with our hands and arms when we present.

In the sped-up version, I noticed I speak a lot with my hands, and this was a nervous reaction. I was burning up my nervous energy. This can distract during an interview. It is better to make slower, big, and more deliberate movements than quicker, smaller, distracting type movements.

The bigger and more deliberate movements also make you seem more in control and have a calming effect on your interviewer, allowing you to think more clearly.

Keeping hands on your lap with interlaced fingers and gesturing now and then is a good strategy ad needs to be practiced until it becomes a habit. You need to be comfortable speaking and using your hand gestures.

Never, ever fidget. If there is a thing that is a dead giveaway of nervousness and lack of confidence, it’s fidgeting.

Handshakes should be firm, but not too firm. Make eye contact when shaking someone’s hand.

Assessing the interviewer’s body language

Copycat

When your interviewer copies your body language, this is a sign that things are going well. If they are leaning in and making eye contact, then all is well.

Ex-fiance

When the interviewer is no longer engaged, you need to win their attention back. They usually display this by folding their hands or arms or looking away.

You need to attract their attention by asking a question or referring to something interesting related to the interview.

‘You asked me about my method of dealing with XXX, well after some thought I think XXX…’

Practice, practice, practice.

Make sure you rehearse your postures and mannerisms, your tone of voice, and your gestures. You must be comfortable in your skin so that you don’t look uneasy or artificial, natural and genuine are a lot more endearing in any interview.

The best is to practice in front of a mirror, actors do it all the time, become an actor and live your interview character.

Listen to understand

Many top companies will ask ambiguous questions to see whether the interviewee understands what they are looking for, asks questions, or makes assumptions. This could be critical in a business context.

Don’t assume what the ambiguity is, ask about it. You must ask about something that is not clear to you. Say that you want to understand what is being asked as you found the question to be ambiguous.

‘I would just like to clarify. Did you ask me about four candles or fork handles?’ a silly example I know, but watch for these. There is no shame in asking for clarification. It also shows that you are a clear communicator and not someone who just assumes stuff.

Comfort

Buying new shoes, or a new shirt can be tempting, but rather than sit there in discomfort because of the cut of a new shirt or the blister that has just started bleeding into your sock, which can distract you, rather wear clothes suited to the interview that you are comfortable in.

Empathy

Empathetic understanding means you can identify, understand, and relate to what the interviewer is saying. Showing an interest in what the interviewer is saying and asking them thoughtful questions about what they have said shows good interpersonal skills and that you have good emotional intelligence, often a critical skill needed for management.

Many interviewers specifically design sections of the interview to evaluate that aspect of your character.

Recap

Maintain eye contact, without staring, and hold a good posture, wear comfortable clothing, keep gestures large, slow, and deliberate, use hands and arms to enhance your message, and not to distract from it.

Practice posture and gestures and facial expressions in front of the mirror. Be like an actor and master the role.

Be open and friendly with facial expressions showing subtle pleasant smiles now and then.

Be comfortable in your own skin and listen intently and with empathy. Ask for clarification if something sounds ambiguous.

Lean forward to engage and slightly back to ponder a question.

Take note of the body language cues from the interviewer and regain engagement with thoughtful statements or questions when the interviewer shows a lack of attention.