The importance of your body language
As Ricky Gervais once famously said, “Body language is more powerful than words”. He should know, after bringing to life one of television’s most amusing, yet cringe-worthy examples (David Brent in The Office) of what NOT to do in a professional setting.
1. Body language and job interviews
This assertion is particularly apt during the job interview scenario.
Even the best verbal responses to interview questions can be overshadowed by your tone and body language. In fact, they could mean the difference between coming off as David Brent or David Letterman. Does your body language project an air of confidence and professionalism? Or does it reveal a sense of awkwardness and discomfort? If your answer is the latter - even if this is not reflective of your personality under normal circumstances – it is important to be mindful of any non-verbal cues you are sending throughout your next job interview, as this could determine whether or not you land that dream job. It is ideal to present as cool, calm, collected and composed, even if you don’t quite feel that way at the time. In other words, ‘fake it ‘til you make it’. If you have ever walked away from a job interview thinking, 'I’ve just nailed that', but were later blindsided by the dreaded 'We regret to inform you…' call or email, your body language may well be the culprit.
2. Body language statistics
Body language and non-verbal language account for around 93% of all communication. Statistics show that when you meet someone for the first time, their impression of you will be formed subconsciously in following ratio:
7% from what you actually say
38% from the quality of your voice, grammar and overall confidence
55% from the way you dress, act and walk through the door.
3. Subconscious biases
Unfortunately, during a job interview with a complete stranger, they only have a brief window to make (perhaps incorrect) judgements about you. Other applicants may give similar answers and have the same level of experience as you, in which case the interviewer will be forced to look beyond these key points to make their decision. Your tone, the way you position your body, move and interact with the other person sends automatic signals about you that you may not even be aware of. This creates biases that either work for or against you. (For example, coming off as shy/reserved may work for you when applying for a position where the work is fairly autonomous; but work against you when applying for a customer service or sales role.) Your interviewer may also not be aware of their own biases, as most non-verbal cues are both transmitted and received subconsciously.
Common body language mistakes
Here are some of the most common non-verbal mistakes made during a job interview, and our tips for avoiding them.
1. Failing to make eye contact
This can be construed as being distracted, disinterested, or even dishonest. However, in some cultures, it can be considered rude to make prolonged eye contact. Tip: If you are talking, try the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time, make eye contact, while the other 20% of the time, allow yourself to look into the distance, gathering your thoughts, and searching for previous experiences upon which you would like to elaborate.
2. Playing with your hair or touching your face
Again, either of these habits can distract you from the conversation, and portray you as rather uninterested. Playing with your hair can also be perceived as flirtation and touching your face can be perceived as being frustrated or ‘hiding something’. Tip: Try holding a pen or notebook to keep your hands busy (this also shows you’re prepared and ready to take notes).
3. Not smiling
While smiling too much can appear ‘fake’; not smiling enough/at all can indicate you’re unhappy being interviewed, or simply an unfriendly person. Tip: A simple, genuine smile peppered throughout the conversation shows warmth, comfort in dealing with others, and a genuine interest in what the other person has to say. It also shows that you like what you’re hearing about the role.
4. Crossing your arms over your chest
If the air-conditioning is below 10-degrees, you may get a free pass on this one, but generally, it can come off as ‘standoffish’ and creates an invisible barrier between you and the other person. Tip: It’s better to place your hands on your lap, by your sides, or on the table in front of you. (Also, bring a jacket, just in case.)
5. Bad posture
Remember when you were in school and the teachers would tell you to, 'Sit up straight and stop slouching' Why? Slouching can relay that you’re tired, bored or not actively listening, when you should be projecting energy and enthusiasm. Tip: If you notice yourself starting to slouch, imagine an invisible rod holding up your spine.
6. Using too many hand gestures
While this habit may vary between cultures and personalities, too much gesticulating can actually distract the interviewer from what you’re saying, as they focus on your hands and not your words. Tip: Again, consciously keep your hands lightly clasped, by your sides, or on the table in front of you.
7. Weak handshake
While this may be an old-fashioned and somewhat patriarchal one, many interviewers still believe that a strong handshake exudes confidence and the ability to ‘take charge’ - particularly for a managerial role. (Just don’t go the other way and get into an arm wrestle) Tip: Aim for a firm grip with good eye contact.
8. Fidgeting too much
Again, fidgeting may indicate discomfort in your surroundings, distraction, or that you are hoping the job interview will end soon. Tip: Avoid stimulants or consumables that are likely to exacerbate your fidgeting before the job interview. Some people find it helpful to hold something with texture (e.g. a pen) to avoid fidgety behavior.
While any assumptions made about your body language may not actually be true, and certainly don’t reflect who you are as a person, perception is everything – especially in a job interview. 33% of employers say they know within the first 90-seconds of meeting an applicant, whether or not they will hire them. Remember, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.