Best body language for an interview

Image courtesy of Ambro /
Image courtesy of Ambro /

OK, listen up: Research shows that body language during a job interview can be more important than what you actually say.

“At a rational level, that’s hard to comprehend,” says Stefan Danis, CEO of Mandrake and NEXCareer. “But at an emotional level, we have sensors that catch other parts of one’s behaviour around body language, voice inflection, and general energy level, and the evidence shows that it’s 90 per cent of the experience that’s remembered whereas content – or the answers during an interview – is less than 10 per cent. We remember how the individual interviewed, not what they said.”

This means, even though you could have the most riveting answer to that question about your leadership style, if you answer in a monotone voice with your arms crossed and looking out the window, your response will mean nothing.

Here are seven ways body language can help you get the job.

1. Be the follower. If the interviewer comes to get you, follow them through their office, and don’t lead in any way. When you get to the room, quickly assess the potential tactical advantage in terms of where you should sit. Again, the choice should place the interviewer in the head position (such as the head of the table). If you’re making a presentation as part of the interview process, it’s appropriate to stand but best to ask permission, says Danis.

“I think it’s a human quality to want to be entertained, educated and energized, and during a job interview that will come more from body language and voice inflection than it will actually come from content.”
– Stefan Danis, CEO, Mandrake and NEXCareer

2. Make a good first impression. When you first meet your interviewer, be sure to radiate positive energy and avoid a ‘claw-like’ or clammy handshake. Consider tilting your hand a little bit to give the other person the higher hand.

3. Friendly body language. Avoid crossing your arms and leaning back in your chair, which may force the interviewer to lean forward. Leaning in is a friendlier posture. Also, don’t fidget. And demonstrate that you are organized by being tidy with your laptop, purse, etc., when you first arrive.

4. Make eye contact. Avoid looking down or away from the interviewer, because not giving proper eye contact may signal a lack of interest, says Danis. Taking notes during the interview shows focus and interest in what the interviewer is saying. It also gives you a bit of a break from constant eye contact. “In any case, it should never be a stare-down – 75 per cent of the time look into the person’s eyes, particularly when they’re talking.”

5. Tone of voice. Tone of voice sends messages too. Yours should convey enthusiasm, energy and confident humility. Maintain a certain speaking pace based on how much time you have and so that you won’t give long-winded, monotonous answers. Asking for feedback shows genuine interest in the role, and be sure to thank the person for their time too.

6. Don’t forget good manners. Protocol should be observed, which means you only sit down when the interviewer has sat down. Be aware of body language in the reception area too. “Some organizations check in with how individuals presented themselves upon arrival. As you’re clearing yourself for an interview, your guard is often down and it’s a relatively authentic moment – so that’s good data,” says Danis. Don’t be dismissive, over-excited or rude. Be engaged, warm, and observe any rules such as signing in and putting on an ID badge. At the end of the interview, only stand up when the interviewer has stood up. If they’ve wrapped it up and are taking notes, you could ask if you may leave – or engage them a little more by asking how you did.

7. Take cues from the interviewer. If the interviewer has a lot of energy, raise yours. If they’re leaning in as if to tell you a secret, then lean in. “You’re sparring to a certain extent to mirror the interviewer,” says Danis. “Generally speaking an organization that pays attention to talent management doesn’t put someone in charge of interviewing that is not going to convey the right level of energy. Follow the interviewer’s lead.”

Published on March 21, 2013
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