Interview Body Language: How to Control Your Body Language at an Interview

Most of us understand what body language is and would be able to make a few comments on somebody else's giveaway physical signals. While we can control our own body language while we think about it, it's harder to maintain control over it when in a stressful situation such as an interview.

It's important to work on your body language if you're facing any job interviews. Just as you prepare written answers to possible questions, you should take time to rehearse how you sit, position yourself, use your hands and talk. You should even give thought to the expressions on your face.

Why is Body Language so Important in an Interview?

Views differ on how much your body language contributes to the information the interviewer picks up from you during the interview. Career experts say that the content of your replies amounts to a mere 50% to a staggeringly low 8%! Whatever the truth - and it must vary enormously between individuals - body language is critical to the outcome.

The fact is that your body language will be assessed by interviewers before you've even uttered a word. The way we read body language is so automatic that the interviewers may not even realise they're doing it - but they'll still do it. Here's how you can work on your body language from the moment you arrive at the venue.

Upon Arrival

Let's face it, if you arrive late and in a fluster, your body language is going to be dreadful from the interview's start. You'll be hot, short of breath and far from relaxed. So always make sure that you arrive 5 to 10 minutes before the time of your interview. Make sure you locate the venue even earlier, even if it means waiting in a nearby cafe or the car park for a while.

Once you've arrived and spoken to the receptionist, take time to visit the rest room. Washing your hands in cold water will set you up for a cool handshake. If you're feeling hot, run cold water over your wrists too, as it'll help bring your temperature down. If it's very cold outside, you might want to use warm water instead.

Wait calmly in reception, sitting back comfortably rather than perching on the edge of your chair. Flick through a magazine if there's one to hand. If not, look at the pictures or out of the window. Take time to slow your breathing and steady your nerves if you need to.

Entering the Interview Room

Right from the start, you're under scrutiny, so make sure you enter the room in the right way. Respond to the interviewer who invites you into the room with a smile. Walk straight in, being very upright with a confident manner. Hold out your hand to shake hands, doing so firmly - but not too firmly! If there's more than one interviewer, shake hands with them all.

Wait until someone indicates where you should sit before taking a chair. If there's no invitation to sit, select the most centrally positioned chair opposite the interviewer.

During the Interview: Your Posture

Sit upright but not stiffly, leaning forward slightly in an attentive manner. Don't sit on the edge of your seat, which looks nervous. Likewise, don't sit right back, as this can look like slouching. Keep your head straight, as this looks confident. It's OK to put your head on one side from time to time, as this can look friendly and receptive.

One thing we do unconsciously is mirror the position of the person we're talking to. Doing this can establish rapport, although it's good to be aware of what you're doing, so that you don't accidentally mirror negative body language. Try to reflect the same level of formality or informality as those interviewing you. Your physical posture is going to be visible for 30 minutes or more, so it's a good idea to practise at home.

During the Interview: Hand Gestures

Hands can be one of the biggest indicators of stress or anxiety. Try to be conscious of what they're doing throughout the interview. Keeping them loosely clasped on the table or in your lap is a good approach. At all costs, avoid fiddling with your watch, cuffs or, worst of all, your hair or your face.

Some things that people do include crossing their arms, which appears hostile or defensive at best. This isn't open body language that encourages someone to talk to or take to you. Expressing enthusiasm or a desire to explain by waving hands around is also a bad thing, as it appears uncontrolled and therefore unprofessional.

During the Interview: Legs

Moving your legs around during the interview signals that you are nervous. Many people don't even realise when they're swinging their foot or tapping a table leg with their toe. Therefore you need to keep your legs under control too.

Lightly crossing them is OK, allowing the uppermost foot to swing free. Crossing your legs and clamping them together down their whole length looks anxious, so avoid doing this. Crossing your legs by resting an ankle on the opposite knee looks too casual and unprofessional. Crossing them at the ankles or placing both feet on the floor sends neutral signals.

During the Interview: Eye Contact

Establishing positive eye contact is vital. You should always look at the interviewer while they're talking and while you're answering their questions. If there's more than one, look briefly at the others during your answer, but always return to the questioner. This way you will keep a sense of how your answers are being received. If they're looking extremely attentive, it might be worth developing your answer a little more. Looking around will appear uncomposed, as if you're physically looking for your answers.

Good eye contact does not mean staring like a maniac. You should maintain eye contact, but remember to blink, nod your head or smile now and then to keep it comfortable. Some experts suggest that you should briefly break up the eye contact every 10 seconds or so. If you can get it right, good eye contact can help establish a positive rapport with the interview.

During the Interview: Your Voice

How you speak isn't exactly part of your body language, but it's worthy of inclusion here. The calm confidence you express through your body language needs to be continued in the way that you speak. It's important to remember to breathe and to talk steadily, without rushing or getting over-animated in your desire to communicate.

It's certainly worth rehearsing your answers at home so you know how you sound before the interview. You can even record yourself doing so. Listening back will show you all the ums and aahs that indicate uncertainty to the interviewer. If you're not immediately clear how to answer, smile and repeat the question, as this buys you a little thinking time.

Is your voice interesting? You may not like the sound of your own voice, but try to assess whether it's monotone or variable in tone. Monotone can be boring, so if this is you, try to enliven your speech a little. While it's OK to sound committed to what you do, with a degree of passion, it's wisest not to show too much emotion in your voice. Again, it's unprofessional. Only laugh if the interviewer is smiling and laughing too.

At the Interview's Close

Don't allow your feelings about how the interview has gone to affect how you act when leaving. It may have gone better than you think, so don't allow negativity to come into your voice or actions. Be friendly and polite as you leave in a composed fashion. Always shake hands when you say 'thank you' and 'goodbye'. End this as you would a business meeting, as you never know what the future might hold for you from these employers.

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