Demystifying Body Language

During a job interview our focus is mostly on what is asked and how we verbally respond to those queries. Ironically, only 10% or less of what we communicate is verbal; the rest is body language and the tone. With 90% riding on the invisible, the unknown, and the unmanaged, it is no wonder that we are often surprised at the outcome of an otherwise “good” interview.

Some pointers below:

1. Dress code: Always dress up and not down; you should feel special but relaxed. Wear something that you know works for you; do not wear something brand-new to an interview.

2. The Handshake: Relaxed firm, not clammy; smile. Ask to be seated; take charge.

3. Seating erect and confidant, 10-15degrees forward/alert. Men/Women knees together. Do not cross legs.

4. Practice some easy icebreakers: Observe the office or comment on the lobby.

5. Legs relaxed, but no spreading or bopping up and down of a leg. Even though your legs or feet may be hidden from the interviewer’s view, if you are nervously moving them or bopping them it will be apparent to the person sitting across.

6. Breathing with the others, deep and quiet. Smile often. Know your own nervous habits. Shut them down.

7. Look at the interviewers (in a group interview) without looking through them or staring at just ONE person; this can mean you are ignoring the others.

8. Engage in a dialog early; do not surrender to an interrogation. Ask to clarify as needed.

9. Always remember: the one who’s talking is doing the selling; make them talk. Also, the one who is asking the questions is in charge of the interview. Get into the habit of asking questions early and not just at the end.

10. Speak deliberately, articulate well, and watch the body language response of others.

11. Call on the body language that you notice. Flicking off imagined lint signals disagreement as does fingers on nose or scratching face. When you see these signals immediately back peddle and bring the interview on track. If you ignore these signals you may derail your interview.

12. Avoid steepling fingers upright (arrogance). Interviewer doing this portends difficulty. If you see interviewer leaning back, looking away from you and then steepling (a typical sequence) you are in increasing difficulty over what you might have said. Back peddle early if you detect this sequence as the interviewer starts leaning back! (Note: Steepling is when you bring your two hands with extended fingers together as a steeple, pointing upwards.)

13. Take manual notes (avoid gadgets) and maintain eye contact, smile, nod, agree.

14. Do not use but; try using and instead.

15. Do not engage in an argument, even when you know that the interviewer is WRONG!

16. Be prepared to take on invidious or sarcastic comments: respond kindly, with a smile!

17. Stay in charge of the interview: always!

18. Ask not what the job can do for you; state what you can do to/for the job!

19. Don’t betray anxiety or desperation by jumping ahead, instead stay calm and deliberate!

20. Drop seeds for easy follow-ups later on. Mention articles you’ve read that support your discussion. Mention articles by name and publication. When you go away from the interview now you have an excuse to send these articles and reconnect with that person to follow-up.

21. Don’t Lie, ever, or misrepresent. This is disempowering! Don’t volunteer adverse information; we all have it. Don’t say anything negative about your past or present, including your managers, colleagues, and employers.

22. Throughout the interview observe interviewer’s facial expressions. Expressions on a face are a good indicator of inside emotions. If you observe a reaction to what you said on the interviewer’s face, quickly recognize it and regroup. A typical emotion is displayed on a face in less than a second and can last for up to two or three seconds.

23. Focus on your value and not on your shortcomings.

24. Show enthusiasm, excitement, and positive energy. Attitude is more important than intelligence!

25. As you depart, thank the interviewer, shake hands and create accountability for the next steps: Stay in charge!

26. Never ask how the interview went. You should know that!

There is no mystery to reading the body language. Once you know the signals you can confidently call on the interviewer and regroup to bring your interview on track. For example, if you see the interviewer furrowing their brow after you made some statement, you may want to say, “Let me clarify what I just said” and then back peddle to see if you can recover your position. If you see a puzzled face, feel comfortable to say, “Looks like what I just said has puzzled you, let me clarify.” Body language is no mystery once you master these typical signals and go on to ace your interview.
Good luck!


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