Going to a job interview can be a little like visiting a foreign country.
At least you’ve navigated your way to the destination and you are confident that you are dressed for the climate.
But suddenly you encounter unfamiliar faces and different ways of doing things and you hope you can speak enough of the language to get by.
Chances are you have prepared carefully for what you will say and how you will say it. That’s great!
What you might not realise is only 7% of what you communicate comes from the words you say. The pitch and tone of your voice, and your pace of speaking make up another 38%.
Even if you get all this absolutely right, the job’s still only half done.
That’s because a staggering 55% of your communication is ‘body language’.
Tips to help you speak ‘body language’
An interview can be nerve wracking. Even more reason to be aware of what your body is saying while you think your mouth is doing all the talking.
The interview will probably start with a handshake, which should be firm but not aggressive.
What you do with your hands says a lot about you.
- Hiding them in your lap or under the table suggests nervous defensiveness or evasion
- ‘White-knuckling’ and pressing hands together hard betrays anxiety and lack of confidence; so does uncontrolled gesturing and fiddling with a pen or paper (which is also annoying)
- Lightly supporting your chin with forefinger and thumb shows thoughtfulness, and accompanies other positive ‘active listening’ signals, such as nodding.
Your eyes will always be an indicator of your genuine state of mind. It’s fairly easy to spot a discrepancy when, for example, the mouth is smiling and the eyes are not; this screams ‘insincerity’
- Steady eye contact, (not a ‘death stare’) shows both confidence and openness
- Looking up through your eyelashes while tilting your head downwards can be interpreted as shyness, submissiveness or flirting (not recommended)
- Looking upwards to think is normal; at the wrong moment it looks like boredom. Expert observers look for evidence of creative construction (looking up to the right, in most people); in response to certain questions, however, for ‘creative construction’ read ‘lying’. Looking up to the left usually signals remembering. Ask someone to take you unawares to check your habits. Not everyone is the same.
- Some people narrow their eyes when concentrating. This can look like disapproval. You might, of course, quite legitimately disapprove of something you are asked during an interview.
Your mouth is extremely expressive, even when you are silent. Ask someone who knows you well to offer some observations.
- Some mannerisms, like lip chewing and licking the lips, convey nervousness or dishonesty. Obviously nail-nibbling is a no-no.
- A tight mouth might well be your natural look, or simply a sign of nervousness, but it can give the impression that you are closed or aggressive. Genuinely warm people are sometimes judged on first impression as being hard and unyielding because of this. To avoid it, consciously relax the jaw and avoid pressing the lips together.
- A light, occasional smile invites and welcomes what is being said; constant smiling looks plain silly. Smiling on one side of the mouth suggests sarcasm.
If you are comfortable without being casual, it will make you look calm, confident and controlled and will allow the person in front of you to feel more relaxed, too.
- Relax the shoulders, or you will look hunched and tense
- Sit up straight (but not ‘to attention’) and avoid the temptation to lean back too comfortably, if you are offered a less formal chair.
- Avoid too much shifting and leg-crossing, and any personal mannerisms such as frequent touching of hair or jewellery.
Monitoring and even modifying your body language isn’t about changing who you are. But you are a newcomer in ‘foreign territory’ and the last thing you want is to get ‘lost in translation’.