When preparing for a job interview, rehearsing how you will respond to the most common interview questions is given. But it’s also a good idea to practice another form of communication that helps the hiring manager form an impression of you without you even saying a word: your interview body language.
We’ll reveal what different forms of body language say about you and explain how you can use this form of nonverbal communication strategically to paint yourself as a confident, capable candidate.
What is body language?
Body language is a type of communication that uses various body parts instead of words. It can be both conscious and subconscious, intentional and unintentional.
Body language can express a person’s emotions and intentions and can also give context clues that add depth to a conversation.
Body language includes:
Think about all the different parts of the face: the eyes, the mouth, the forehead, and even the nose can tell you when a person is feeling happy, sad, angry, and many more emotions.
The face often says far more than words do. For example, certain facial behaviors can be telltale signs a person is lying.
Facial expressions can also give clues to the true meaning behind a person’s words. Take the common phrase, “You know what I mean?” The phrase takes on a very different meaning if it’s accompanied by an eye roll versus if it’s said with a wink.
Posture describes how you carry your body, namely your upper back and shoulders. Sitting or standing up straight expresses confidence and enthusiasm, while slouching can indicate uncertainty or disinterest.
We all know a person who talks with their hands. Maybe you’re that person *gestures to you wildly*. If so, you know how valuable hand motions can be in helping express what you mean.
Gestures can be used to emphasize a point, demonstrate understanding, and add subtle but important layers of meaning. A gesture can even be the entire message, like a wave, a thumbs up, or a certain finger.
Your gaze, a.k.a. what you’re looking at, specifies where your attention is focused. Making eye contact shows interest in what another person is saying, whereas lack of eye contact can signify apathy, dismissiveness, or anxiety.
Why body language matters
In a job interview, it’s important to be attentive to what your body is saying about you.
As we’ve seen in the examples mentioned above, some types of body language can be a message in and of themselves, like slouching or looking away from a person speaking. These are messages you obviously want to avoid sending during a job interview.
On the other hand, proactive choices of body language can be a tool to strengthen and enhance your interview answers, adding more impact to your responses than words alone. Positive body language can communicate your excitement about the position, your level of confidence as a candidate, and your engagement in the interview–all attributes that will make you a more viable candidate.
Body language also helps you build rapport with the interviewer. Like it or not, being “likable” determines whether you’ll move on to the next round. So, it pays to use your body language to connect with your interviewer on a more personal level so that they come away with the feeling that you’re someone they’d want on their team.
Body language tips for a job interview
1. Stand (and sit) up tall
When your interviewer first sees you, you’ll most likely be sitting, standing, or walking. Whatever the situation, your posture will be instantly apparent, and it can make a big impression. A strong posture exudes confidence, friendliness, and trustworthiness.
Practice standing tall by rolling your shoulders back, lifting your chin, and straightening your spine. It can help to imagine a string on the top of your head pulling upward as if you were a puppet.
You can maintain a strong posture while sitting, too. Avoid leaning back in your chair. Instead, scoot forward so your back is a few inches away from the back of the chair and adopt the same upward spine-lengthening motion.
2. Perfect your handshake
The perfect handshake is an art form all its own.
You want it to be firm but not so firm it’s uncomfortable.
Wait to close your grasp until your hands have connected at the web of your thumbs; otherwise, you’ll be engaged in an awkward finger-grasp that feels like you’re about to kiss the other person’s hand.
Shake from the elbow, not the wrist, and release your grasp after one to two brisk shakes.
3. Use “open” positions
Open body language conveys a sense of approachability and honesty.
This means literally opening up your body, not folding one or both arms across your chest. Angle your shoulders so that the center of your chest is directed toward your interviewer.
If you’re sitting with your legs crossed, direct your knees straight ahead rather than twisting them to the side. Your hands can be comfortably placed at your sides, resting on the tops of your legs, or folded in your lap.
4. Move deliberately
You want to avoid doing anything distracting from your interview, meaning your movements should happen with intention rather than fidgeting.
One easy way to do this is to slow your pace and breathe a little more deeply. Walk with measured steps, which will help you keep from tripping. Reach deliberately into your bag where your resume is rather than shoving your hand in and fishing around.
5. Mirror the interviewer
It’s a tried-and-true sales tactic to mirror the mannerisms of your target. When done correctly in an interview, this can foster feelings of trust and familiarity.
Don’t mimic them outright, but take your cues from their actions. If they smile, return the expression. If they’re raising their voice, gesturing with their hands, and using an enthusiastic tone, turn your enthusiasm up a notch, too.
6. Make eye contact
You want to make sufficient eye contact so that you’re clearly focused on the interviewer while avoiding an unbroken stare, which can be overwhelming.
For practice, be mindful the next time you talk to a friend or someone else you’re comfortable with. Notice how you don’t look them dead in the eye without blinking or looking away. Instead, you focus mostly on their eyes with natural breaks for blinks and glances in other directions.
Making eye contact doesn’t just apply to your interviewer. Do it with everyone you come into contact with on interview day, like the receptionist at the front desk or the manager who pops their head in to say hi during your interview.
7. Control distracting motions
If you’re someone who’s always jiggling your leg or chewing absentmindedly on your fingernail, you’ll need to practice limiting this fidgeting ahead of time. It may be helpful to fold your hands and place them in your lap or to tuck your fingertips under the side of your legs.
8. Practice your “engaged” expression
When you’re focused on performing well during a job interview, it’s easy to zone out while the other person is speaking. However, your body language extends beyond when you’re talking to when you’re listening.
Practice an engaged expression to use when the interviewer is talking. Make eye contact, smile if appropriate, and use nods and “mm-hmm”s to convey that you’re listening.
9. Don’t wear brand-new clothes
Many people shop for something new to wear to an interview, but this can harm your body language. You move differently in clothes you’ve never worn before than in comfortable ones.
Your best bet is to dress in staple pieces you’ve already broken in or, at the very least, wear your new interview outfit a few days in advance to ensure you don’t feel stiff on interview day.
10. Be courteous
This isn’t exactly body language but consists of the other nonverbal actions you take once the interview has concluded will weigh on the interviewer’s impression of you. Pushing in your chair, being receptive to a closing handshake, and shutting the door gently behind you will cap off the interview on a high note.