What does your body language say at interview?

You’ve practised for the on-line numeracy and verbal reasoning tests. You’ve researched your target employer in depth, both from its website and wider media. Your academic grades are great. You can demonstrate work experience and on campus involvement. There can’t be anything else to worry about can there? Oh yes. Body language! Here are some hints to hit the right tone with this too.

Employers read body language as carefully as your application. From the moment that you step through their doors for an assessment centre you need to be giving the right signals. This can be tricky. There are cultural differences in expectation which might vary from one country to another. If you’re applying for a job in the UK, it’s good to understand how your movements are perceived here.

A huge amount has been written about body language. You might find some useful information here or watch Amy Cuddy delivering a TED talk on the subject. While you need to be aware of what your body might be “saying” you shouldn’t get obsessed by your movements. Here are a few tips.

1.  Smile

Three happy coworkers sitting down to have a meeting

This sounds really obvious but sometimes when we’re nervous our smiles inexplicably disappear. From the moment you announce your arrival at reception, make sure that you’re smiling and that you make eye contact on meeting people. Employers are looking to hire those who will be able to work in teams and quite possibly charm clients. If you’re perceived as unsmiling or unfriendly, it’s going to create a negative impression. Offer the same cheerful greeting to everyone you meet, don’t reserve courtesy just for the person you think may be taking the decisions. You don’t know who else may be asked for feedback on your behaviour.

2.  Keep your hands under control

Make sure that your hand movements are under control. I use my hands to talk. Watch a few minutes of this interview of me offering interview training and you’ll see what I mean. Are my hand movements distracting? Possibly! You’ll notice though, that I am not touching my face. When I move my hands my gestures are open. If you put your hands on your face, you risk covering your mouth. People can’t hear clearly what you’re saying and you communicate a lack of confidence. Make sure you know what you’re likely to do with your hands. If you’re not sure ask friends and family members what your hand movements are like. In the interview or assessment centre keep checking what’s going on with those hands!

3.  Good posture makes you look confident

confidence_tick200Your posture is important. Make sure that when you stand and walk, you hold yourself erect. Don’t slouch back into a chair when you’re seated. Watch the body language of those around you. If someone advances towards you with hand outstretched then respond by offering your hand to shake. Don’t just touch the proffered hand. Grip it– ideally without crushing all the bones in it! if you are not confident about your handshake then practise it. (If you don’t shake hands for religious reasons then explain this with a smile.)

Think about your arms too. When we lack confidence we tend to cross our arms. It’s an age old urge to protect our bodies. Try not to do this. You might find this a challenge. I do! Find something else to do with your arms. Perhaps you could accept a drink, you can’t really hold a cup of coffee and cross your arms.

4.  Keep up the eye contact.

Eye contact is going to be important throughout an assessment centre or interview. While it’s probably fairly obvious that you need to make eye contact when you’re talking directly to someone, it also matters when you are giving a presentation. You need to include everyone listing to you. Move your eyes around the group and engage people by looking directly at them. Similarly in a panel interview or group exercise don’t just look at the person who asked the question, or who spoke last, move your eyes around to look directly at others in the room too. If you find eye contact really difficult because you’re shy, you need to practise this. If you struggle with it because you have an autistic spectrum disorder then you will have to decide whether you want to disclose your condition. Talk to your careers service about how to proceed. Employers have obligations not to distinguish against you on grounds of disability. If you explain your problems then proper allowance can be made.

Keep all this in mind when your practice for an interview, perhaps get some friends to comment on your body language in advance. On the day, try not to think about it and concentrate on enjoying yourself. After all, we all like attention and you’ll be getting lots of it! If you relish the opportunity to shine, the chances are that your body language will show this. You’ll engage the recruiters for all the right reasons.

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