Interviews can be incredibly nerve-wracking, sweaty-palm inducing experiences, and because we spend so long thinking about what we should say in an interview, we sometimes overlook what our bodies are doing. More often that not, it’s actually our actions that give us away, far more than what comes out of our mouths.
Even when we’re out with friends, we read one another based on more than speech alone. It’s generally how our friends act, rather than what they say, that makes us realise they need a drink, a hug, or a full blown rant; and it’s no different when it comes to interviews.
Interviewers read your body language to determine how confident you are, and even how serious you are about the job you’re trying to bag. And if you don’t know what confident and in control looks like, don’t worry; we’ve covered all bases.
In most interviews, you’ll probably be directed to a specific seat; but when you’re in an oversized room (with a table designed for eight when there are only three of you), try to choose a seat that lets you see your interviewer(s) clearly. It’s always a good idea to wait and see which chairs the interviewers are aiming for, but be careful not to hang around too long if they’re taking a while to get settled. If there’s a window in the room, choose a chair that faces it — just make sure you don’t find yourself daydreaming out of it.
You never thought of a table as being tricky before, did you? Well, it can be in an interview situation — if you sit too close to it, or indeed, too far from it. Honestly, it’s a minefield. As a rule of thumb, your elbows should be slightly off the edge of the table when your arms fall loosely in front of you, but you shouldn’t have to lean forward to put your hands on the table. It’s a well known fact (well, perhaps not that well know), that people who place their hands below the table are seen as having something to hide. And if there is no table (or only a sneakily low one), then rest your hands in your lap.
Being under observation (not to make it sound like you’re in a science lab), can make you feel like you’re at a disadvantage, but recoiling in the corner isn’t going to convince anyone you’re right for the job. Instead, try to imagine that you’re sitting with your favourite teacher from school or college and explaining your merits to them; keeping your body language warm and open, whilst still respecting boundaries.
Using your hands to express yourself during speech can showcase your personality and enthusiasm — just make sure it doesn’t become distracting and take the focus away from your face. Try to limit your movements to the area directly in front of you, never higher than your chest, and never below the table. If you have a tendency to fidget, intertwine your fingers and rest your hands on the table. And whatever you do, don’t cross your arms: it’ll make you look unreceptive, guarded and lacking in confidence. And we know you’re none of those things.
Good interviewers will understand your nerves and try to put you at your ease, so reward their efforts with an easy smile. A nervous smile is better than no smile at all (no one wants to hire a grump); but try not to overdo it — it’s not a contest for Hollywood’s pearliest teeth. And while it’s more than acceptable to laugh if the situation warrants it, avoid making jokes — you might be the only one who finds them funny.
However nervous you may be feeling, avoiding eye contact is not the way to deal with it; you’ll just end up looking evasive and insecure. But as with every rule, there’s a flip side: if you stare at people too much, you’ll make them feel uncomfortable. If you’re being interviewed by just one person you’ll have no choice but to look at them, but if you’re faced with multiple interviewers, look mostly at whoever asked you the question, and occasionally glance at the others.
If you have a pen with you, avoid fiddling with it (just imagine if it went flying off in the wrong direction)! It might turn into a funny anecdote for the future, but it’s unlikely to land you the job. You should also think twice about accepting a drink; not because it’s laced with truth serum, but because a shaky water hand will reveal how nervous you are. And at all costs, avoid playing with your hair or any jewellery too much. It might be comforting to you, but it can be hugely distracting for an interviewer.
Mirroring someone else’s body language is a rather clever way of making them feel like there’s a connection between you. It can happen automatically without you even realising it, but if you want to be sure, take note of their actions. For example, if the interviewer leans forward, lean forward a little bit too. But be careful not to overdo it (and do not mirror instantly), otherwise it’ll end up looking like a Laurel and Hardy sketch.
Body language is hugely important, but you still need to know what you’re talking about; after all, your actions are largely a reflection of how confident you are. Focus on building confidence before the interview with a healthy dose of preparation, because when you go to the interview relaxed, you’ll be surprised at how much of the above you do naturally.
So remember to relax, sit up, make eye contact, be pleasant, and don’t be afraid to express yourself. They’ll be snapping you up in no time.
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