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.
What you’ll learn:
- Why body language matters in a job interview
- Body language tips for job interviews
- 8 body language mistakes to avoid in a job interview
- How to relax before a job interview
- Things you should (and shouldn’t) bring to a job interview
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 judgy 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. There’s a good chance that you’ll be greeted by a receptionist or another staff member, and remember, even if they aren’t the person who’ll be interviewing you, every impression matters. Even if you’re feeling nervous, smile, engage with them and be friendly – bad reviews spread quickly, so don’t give anyone a reason to provide any negative feedback.
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 small talk, 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 confidently: 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, don’t take this too far.
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 as 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.
4. How important is voice tone and volume?
As you’d expect, both the tone of your voice, and how loudly you speak matter during a job interview.
When it comes to volume, the best advice is to try and match the interviewer. You don’t want to be shouting at them, but equally, it’s incredibly frustrating for the interviewer if they have to ask you to repeat yourself constantly because you’re whispering.
Regarding tone, it’s simply a case of being bright, positive and confident. Perhaps most importantly, you want to avoid speaking in a monotone, as then the interviewer will find themselves nodding off as you speak.
5. How should I engage with the job interviewer?
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 sight from the building… and breathe.
Bad body language in an interview: 8 things to avoid doing
In an ideal world, you’ll avoid doing any of the below in a job interview. However, it can be hard to always control this stuff, so don’t worry if you catch yourself doing something ‘wrong’, just subtly correct it and move on. At the end of the day, body language is unlikely to rule you out of contention from a role that you’re a very good fit for. It’s just about doing everything you can to get over the finish line.
- Crossed arms: we know it's comfortable, but as we’ve mentioned, this can be seen as defensive, or even aggressive. Rest your hands in your lap or on the table in front of you, this helps to indicate that you’re relaxed and comfortable in your surroundings.
- Slouching: this doesn’t look professional and gives the impression that you’re disinterested in the conversation. Sit up straight and engage with the interviewer.
- Fiddling: whether it’s a pen, a ring, a watch or your hair, constantly fiddling with something will distract both you and the interviewer from the discussion, and again indicates that you’re not relaxed in your surroundings.
- Wandering eyes: it may be a great Fat Freddy’s song, but it’s not a great move in your job interview. This can indicate that you aren’t concentrating, or that you don’t feel confident in meeting the interviewer’s eye.
- Shrugging: the words “I don’t know” are some of the worst you can utter in a job interview, and a shrug is just as bad.
- Over-the-top hand movements: within reason, gesturing is a natural part of speaking and can help you emphasise your points. But if your arms are going like a windmill, your interviewer will find it hard to focus on what you’re saying.
- Stiffness: this can be a tough one to counter, particularly when you’re nervous. But try to relax, as overly stiff movement can be awkward and make the encounter flow less naturally.
- Not smiling: it’s amazing how much a friendly face can diffuse tension and uncomfortableness in a job interview. While you don’t want to be grinning like a maniac, make sure you look happy to be there.
How to relax before a job interview
On the day of the interview itself, it’s very normal to feel nervous. As well as good preparation, there are a few things you can do to help control the butterflies, these include:
- Going for a walk: this could include the walk to the interview itself, or a quick stroll through the park near your home if you have time before the meeting. This can help you clear your head and calm down.
- Breathing techniques: both in and during the interview, focus on slow, deep breaths that come from your abdomen. Obviously you don’t want this breathing to be loud, so breathing through your nose is best.
- Ring someone: if you’re really freaking out, it can help to call someone calm and chat to them. As well as directly calming you down, they can distract you from what’s coming up.
- Give yourself plenty of time to get there: the last thing you need on the day of a job interview is to be under time pressure because you left late or a bus didn’t show up. Plan to be there 15 minutes before the start time, and give more time than you need to get there.
- Practise mindfulness: there are many ways to practise mindfulness, but an effective one of doing this prior to a job interview is by focusing on your five senses. Think about what you can see, hear, smell, feel and taste. This can be a great way of bringing yourself back to the present, and away from any anxiety spirals you might be feeling.
Have something to look forward to after: while your focus is on the upcoming job interview, having something fun planned for afterwards can take the sting out of the nerves you might be experiencing now.
Things you should (and shouldn’t) bring to a job interview
What you should bring to a job interview:
- Anything the company has asked you to bring: For example, a presentation you’ve prepared.
- A copy of your CV and cover letter: you might not need these, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- A pen: you never know when this will come in handy.
- A professional-looking bag: you don’t want to have all of these things loose in your hands, so make sure you have an appropriate bag or folder to put them in.
- A water bottle: chances are, you’ll be offered a glass of water, but you might feel your mouth getting dry as you’re waiting to go in.
- Your phone: for directions and instructions of who you’re meeting, which will probably have been sent to you as an email. Just make sure it’s silent!
- Breath mints: it’s always a good idea to make sure your breath is minty fresh, but make sure you’re not still chewing when you go in.
- Notes with questions on them: ideally, you’ll be able to remember the questions you want to ask, but good employers won’t have an issue if you bring a notepad with these written down.
What you shouldn’t bring to a job interview:
- A cup of coffee or a snack: make sure you’re adequately fueled up before your job interview, but don’t bring this stuff in. It’s likely that you’ll be offered a drink when you arrive, but you don’t want to bring food or drinks yourself as it doesn’t look professional on a first meeting.
- Shopping bags: even if you’re combining your interview with a trip to the shops, don’t do the shopping first. This makes it look as if you have things on your mind other than the interview, whereas it should be your top priority.
- Chewing gum: you shouldn’t bring chewing gum into an interview under any circumstances.
- A rival’s product: turning up to an interview carrying a product made by the organisation’s top commercial rival isn’t a good first impression.
- Anything you might fiddle with: of course, if you have a piece of jewellery that you want to wear for whatever reason, then go for it. But if you’re undecided about an item, and you don’t need to wear it, we'd recommend leaving it at home. The fewer things you might be tempted to fiddle with, the better.
- A book: sitting in the waiting area reading a book suggests that you’re not focussing on the interview that’s coming up.
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