Often, it takes more than being prepared to answer questions to ace a job interview. From the moment you walk through the door, you’re being assessed on whether you’re right for the role - and in most cases, you’re being judged before you’ve even said a word.
Our posture, gestures, movements and facial expressions all give non-verbal cues that shape how we come across to other people. And in an interview, our body language can have as much bearing on the outcome as your ability to actually do the job on offer.
Why does body language matter?
“Body language significantly influences how ‘likeable’ we are and the job interview is a situation where this all comes into play,” explains Alison Wilde, an organisational psychologist who runs the career consultancy Birdsoup.
According to Albert Mehrabian, a pioneer researcher of body language in the 1960s and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, there are three elements of communication: content (7%), tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%). Of these, Mehrabian states, body language - non-verbal cues - have the most significant impact on how a message is received and how likeable someone is.
There are limitations to the research, including that the equation is only applicable in certain contexts, but it still highlights the vital role that nonverbal communication plays.
“All three elements are essential to being ‘liked’ but the most important thing is that they are congruent - i.e, they are in line with each other,” Wilde says. “If I’m saying I’m an outgoing person who loves people but I’m looking at the floor or wringing my hands then my communication is not congruent. We instinctively know when things don’t add up even if we can’t always articulate exactly why.”
So how can you improve your chances of success in a job interview?
“There are lots of lists of positive body language out there. The basic do’s are making eye contact, sitting up straight and forward in the chair, using open hands and gestures and mirroring the interviewer’s body language,” Wilde says.
These actions signify you’re paying attention, engaged in the conversation and interested in the interviewer and the job position. If you are being interviewed by more than one person, make sure to hold eye contact with all of them - depending on who is asking the question, of course.
There are also several things to avoid when it comes to body language. Rather than appearing relaxed, slouching suggests you simply aren’t interested in what is going on and may convey a lack of confidence. Meanwhile, being hunched over will show nerves.
“The don’ts include: Fidgeting, playing with hair or face, eye swivelling or avoiding eye contact and slouching or moving about too much,” Wilde adds.
What else can you do to make a good impression?
It can also help to film yourself being interviewed and then watch it back. “It’s not the most fun but you can see for yourself how you come across,” Wilde says.
“Also get a trusted friend or advisor to give you a critique of your performance. It’s uncomfortable but worth it. Watch out for habitual body language – we all have things we do without realising that can be received negatively – when you see it you usually know it. Also practising is vital and helps overcome nerves.”
Rachida Benamar, a career coach, speaker and entrepreneur, says people often Google how to act on the day - which can go terribly wrong.
“The worst thing you can do is practice being someone you think the interviewer will like,” she explains. “Having a set of pre-rehearsed body language behaviours can play against you. Why? Because you will come across as disingenuous and human beings are masters of spotting when something is off.
“The interviewer will not be impressed by a performance but rather by someone who presents themselves authentically.”
Benamar also recommends adopting a “power pose” just before the interview. This might mean making yourself as tall as possible or standing in a posture you associate with being powerful, in the hope of feeling and behaving more assertively.
“You are telling your body that you are ready for success and how you feel on the inside will show on the outside,” she says. “If you go to your interview with a list of behaviours to tick off - eg, hold eye contact, shake hand firmly, sit bolt upright - you will come across robotic.”
What should you do in a Skype interview?
If you are applying for a remote position or if the job is in a different location, you may well be asked to do an online interview. Although this makes observing body language more of a challenge, there are things you can do to come across well to the interviewer.
“In this scenario, candidates really need to rehearse maintaining positive facial expressions much more than in face-to-face ones which is pretty unnatural and feels difficult to start with,” says Wilde.
“There are different techniques that can be employed to help with this. For example, finding a good spot to pin a picture of a person’s face to ‘talk’ to in order to try and simulate a face to face conversation. Once again record this before you go live to make sure it’s as natural as possible.”