Most of us have had a version of this experience at one time or another: You are perfect for the job. You’ve polished your resume to a high gloss, your references are glowing, and you sail through the interview – prepared for every question. You know you’re just what they’re looking for and… you don’t land the job. What could possibly have gone wrong?
The truth is, you might have lost the job before you ever said anything, or even sat down in the chair. It’s said that 90% of communication is nonverbal. Whether that percentage is accurate is debatable, but there’s no arguing that we are constantly conveying information about ourselves non-verbally, and we’re often not even aware of it. As Forbes says, “You may be the most qualified candidate—but forget to smile, slouch in your chair or fail to make eye contact during the interview, and you could be out of the running.”
The bottom line is, despite your best efforts to the contrary, you might have sabotaged your own chances of being hired without realizing it. Think about it: We make all kinds of decisions all day long based on non-verbal cues we’re picking up from other people. Have you ever crossed the street because someone coming toward you makes you feel uncomfortable for some reason? Do you smile at a perfect stranger because they appear friendly? Even self-defense students are taught that criminals target those who appear vulnerable simply based on how they behave. In the age of the 24-hour news cycle and omnipresent cameras, body language can make or break politicians. The same is true of business leaders and TV news anchors. Examples of the influence of body language are endless, and its importance cannot be overstated.
Below are some of the worst body language mistakes you could be making in your job interviews.
- A weak handshake – If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a limp fish, you’ll know how it made you feel. Your handshake should be firm but not too overbearing.
- Crossing your arms – This is a very defensive position, and you are literally closing yourself off when you do this. It can make you appear closed off, unapproachable, or defensive to the interviewer. This pose also hides your hands, which can make you come across like you have something to hide (both literally and metaphorically).
- Poor posture – Sit up straight, don’t slouch, and don’t slump – these can all make you come across as unengaged or uninterested. Good posture will make you look (and feel) more confident and in control.
- Lack of eye contact – Eye contact is a way to demonstrate authority and confidence. Failure to do so can come across as nervousness, shyness, or shiftiness. Don’t stare at the interviewer, of course, but a few seconds of unbroken eye contact can go a long way in conveying executive presence.
- Giving no physical feedback – Facial expressions are an effective way to show that you are interested in what somebody is saying: head nods, smiling, raised eyebrows, and even just leaning forward. Without using these visual cues, it can appear as if you’re not interested, you’re distracted, or you’re bored (and would not inspire anyone to want to add you to their team).
- Not smiling – Sure, they want you to take the job seriously, but they also want to hire someone who will be pleasant and friendly to work with. Smiling conveys openness and energy, while not smiling can come across as cold, harsh, or even untrustworthy. But beware – over-smiling can be perceived as insincere.
- Fidgeting or exaggerated hand movements – Small, subtle hand gestures are an effective way to make a point with authority, but big hand movements can be distracting. Another habit that can make you seem scattered, insecure, or lacking confidence is fidgeting (including playing with your phone, twirling your hair, or bouncing a pen).
So, how do you not let your body betray you in an interview situation? The first step is awareness — become aware of your habits. Ask your friends and family members (or your executive recruiter!) their candid opinions on how you come across non-verbally. Become conscious of your body language and notice how it makes you feel to sit up straighter, to give a firmer handshake, to be more focused and less fidgety. It’s amazing how adopting the behaviors of confident people can actually increase your own sense of confidence. Try maintaining eye contact versus looking away frequently and see how each action makes you feel.
The second step is to practice. Before you go in for a real, high-stakes interview, conduct a mock interview with someone you trust and have them give you honest feedback. Morgan Samuels consultants conduct extensive interview preparation with our candidates to help them put their best foot forward. Watch movies and TV shows and observe how powerful, confident characters carry themselves and try incorporating some of those behaviors into your daily life.
The bottom line? As executive recruiters, we concur that straight posture, sustained eye contact, a firm handshake, and a smile can do more to convey confidence than the most eloquent interview response. If you don’t pay attention to this element of communication, you are leaving a very important factor to chance.