You can try to predict interview questions and practise your answers to them all you want, but if you aren’t careful about what your body language is saying, you could easily derail the interview before it even begins.
You’ve spent weeks and months preparing for that big interview with your dream company. You’ve anticipated all the questions they might throw at you and rehearsed your answers to perfection – little do you realise that, as you walk into the interview, you might have blown your chance before you utter a single word.
Body Language Mistakes
Last year, CareerBuilder conducted an online survey of 2,100 hiring managers, revealing the top ten most common body language follies they observe candidates making in interviews. The results confirmed something that many of us in the business world already knew: first impressions are massively important.
According to the survey, 49% of employers claim they can discern if a candidate is a good fit within the first five minutes. After fifteen minutes, that number rises to 90%. Given such a miniscule time frame in which to prove themselves, candidates must realise that their physical behaviour can drastically improve – or compromise – their chances of getting hired.
A lack of eye contact proved to be the most common mistake, cited by 65% of the surveyed managers. “An interviewer might read a lack of eye contact as a sign that you have something to hide,” CareerBuilder’s senior career advisor Mary Lorenz tells Time. It can also unwittingly convey anxiety, even if you’re not actually feeling nervous.
And no interviewer likes to meet with a scowling interviewee. 36% cited a failure to smile as another common problem. “Not smiling tends to give off the impression that you’re not excited about the job and don’t want to be there,” Lorenz adds.
Other typical body language mistakes include fidgeting, whether with pens on the table or with your hair; bad posture, such as slouching or crossing your arms; and having too strong or weak of a handshake. With so many tiny actions and movements to avoid, how can interviewees avoid these fatal mistakes?
Making a Good First Impression
When you first enter the interviewer’s office, it’s important to convey confidence and self-assurance. According to CareerCast, you should “greet your interviewer with direct eye contact and a firm, sincere handshake.”
Don Goodman on Careerealism goes further in emphasising the importance of the handshake and eye contact in this vital first step. “A weak handshake and lack of eye contact can leave the impression you are timid and insecure,” he says. “An overpowering handshake with a fixed gaze may come across as overconfident and arrogant.” He advises aiming for something in between.
In Forbes, Darlene Price says that eye contact is the primary tool for connecting nonverbally with others, as well as communicating your level of involvement, interest, and warmth. She recommends looking “directly into their eyes at least two to three seconds before looking away.” On the other hand, you should refrain from one-second looks, or eye darting, which conveys ”insecurity, anxiety, or evasion.”
Practise Makes Perfect
Preparation and practice are key to ensuring a well-conducted interview. Rosemary Haefner, CareerBuilder’s vice president of human resources, recommends recording yourself answering common questions (such as the ones listed on The Guardian) so you can look for and identify your bad body language habits. You can even practise with a friend or family member who can then give you feedback.
Both verbal and nonverbal communication must exude confidence. "Our nonverbal messages often contradict what we say in words," Chicago career consultant Arlene Hirsch tells CareerCast. "When we send mixed messages or our verbal messages don't agree with our body language, our credibility can crumble." Attaining that perfect equilibrium is key.
Some examples of a strong balance of verbal and nonverbal communication:
1. When recounting past experiences, you should “always be positive when telling your story,” according to Pauwels Consulting. Naturally, you’ll want a smile to match it.
2. If you begin to feel stressed or get thrown an odd question you can’t immediately answer, don’t panic and start fidgeting. Rather, take a deep breath and think of a reply in a calm and collected manner. Doing so will demonstrate your ability to maintain an air of professionalism under pressure.
Don’t be discouraged if this seems overwhelming! As James puts it, “People can master body language skills and defeat the nerves and shyness they commonly feel when confronted by strangers.”
This starts with considering how you personally behave in an interview – in the end, it’s all a matter of determination and effort. Are you willing to rise up to the challenge?