Careers advice

Body language in job interviews: what you need to know

Body language is crucial in job interviews. So, it's time to sit up straight, smile and stop fiddling with that pen.

Job interviews are all about preparation. Sure, you never know exactly what you’ll be asked, or how good the competition is – but putting in the yards beforehand gives you the best chance of success.

As well as polishing answers to some of the most common job interview questions, an important part of getting ready is working on your body language. Trust us, while you’re watching your words like a hawk, your body is singing secrets through a megaphone – and they won’t fly under the radar.

Here’s how to make sure your mouth and body are working as a team:

Folding your arms indicates you're feeling defensive or uncomfortable.

Why is body language important in an interview?

First impressions are vital, and humans are a judgey bunch. We start to form opinions about each other within seconds, and body language has a huge part to play. In fact, research has suggested that body language may account for as much as 55% of all communication.

The impacts of bad body language in a job interview can range from distracting (think table finger tapping) to outright unprofessional (think slumping in your chair, hands in pockets, staring into space).

In both cases, if you’re not monitoring your body language, you aren’t doing yourself any favours – so it’s best to prepare.

Body language tips for job interviews

1. How should I greet the interviewer?

In New Zealand, you’ll probably meet your interviewer in a reception area before they show you to their office.

When they come out, stand up and greet them with a smile and a handshake. This should be firm, but remember you want them to like you – so no wrist breakers.

You might exchange a bit of smalltalk, then let them lead the way to your interview room.

2. How should I sit in an interview?

Sit straight: if you’re a natural sloucher, it’s time to put the habit to bed. You want to look interested and engaged in the conversation by sitting up straight or even leaning in slightly towards the interviewer (remembering the sacred rule of personal space).

Sit still: we don’t mean you can’t shift position at all, but lots of movement is distracting, and shows you’re nervous.

Sit confident: crossing your arms and legs can be seen as defensive, and suggests you’re uneasy – an open stance is what you’re aiming for.

As for your legs, either place them flat on the ground, or cross them at the ankles under the table.

With your arms, find a comfortable way of resting them on the table, or in your lap.

Gesturing with open palms implies openness and honesty.

3. What should I do with my hands in a job interview?

There’s a balance to strike with hand gestures in an interview. While being animated can make you more engaging to listen to, this isn’t the occasion to channel your inner Jack Sparrow.

Here are a few pointers:

  • Keep your palms open and facing up: this signals you’re being honest and open. Having your palms down is associated more with dominance, while curled knuckles can come off aggressive.
  • Avoid distractions: if you tend to fiddle with jewellery, pens or keys in your pocket, put these out of reach in a bag or jacket.
  • Be natural: most people move their hands when they talk, and this isn’t a problem. In fact, being too controlled will look robotic – you only need to worry if your hands are stealing your mouth’s thunder.

Don't do this.

4. How should I engage with the job interviewer?

Just get down on one knee and offer them a ring. Wait ... wrong kind of engagement, that’s probably too much too soon.

When interacting with a job interviewer, remember to:

  • Give them the right amount of eye contact: again, be natural. Eye contact when listening shows you’re paying attention, and helps you remain engaging when talking. But this isn’t a staring competition – little breaks and reconnections, like in any normal conversation, are ideal.
  • Include everyone: often, there will be two interviewers. Even if one does most of the talking, interact with both when answering questions.
  • Be responsive: nodding your head is a good way to show you’re hearing and understanding what they say. Just don’t overdo it.
  • Smile: job interviews can be intimidating, but don’t be afraid to smile or show humour when appropriate.

At the end, the interviewer will show you out of the room or building, usually with one last handshake.

Now just make it out of eyeline from the building … and breathe.