Body language: The fine line between cool and confident vs. creepy and insane
First impressions are formed quickly. Last week I wrote about how in many cases the first twelve words you speak are the most important things you’ll say in a job interview. That’s because it is in your initial meeting and first conversation with an employer that their first impression of you is formed. At least as important as those first twelve words is your unspoken communication, your body language.
And first impressions are hard to change. Eliot Hoppe, a leading expert on body language agrees. Hoppe says that hiring managers, while they may not even be conscious of it, “size up” a candidate for the position, right from the first glance.
And it’s literally a first glance. Says Hoppe, “In the first four seconds of meeting someone, you will have already answered four questions:
- 1) Do I like you?
- 2) Do I trust you?
- 3) Are you safe?
- 4) Who do you remind me of?”
“Consider too, that even in a short 20-minute meeting, a person can transmit up to 700 non-verbal signals, and that’s beyond the verbal communication already taking place,” he added.
Body language essentials for acing first impressions
- Smiling makes you appear friendly, confident, and happy to be there. Plus our facial expressions can actually influence our emotional states. So not only will you look happier and more confident if you smile, you’ll feel it too.
Smiles are also contagious. So with just your facial expression you can make your interviewer happier as well. This is even true for a phone interview, as we can ‘hear’ a smile in someone’s voice. Smiling causes your voice to sound amiable and receptive.
Studies have shown that people who smile seem more trustworthy, are rated higher in generosity and extraversion. Don’t oversmile. Holding on to a constant grin can make you look insane.
Get the handshake right. Your handshake is an essential part of the first impression you make on an employer. A well timed, firm but not aggressive handshake says you are confident, social and professional. A weak, finger-tip or overly-macho handshake can give the impression that you lack confidence or basic social skills.
Make eye contact, but don’t stare. There is a rhythm to this that you have to master. Make eye contact, then break it as you formulate a thought or recall information. Then return to eye contact as you make your point. Avoiding eye contact can make you appear anti-social or dishonest. Staring too much into someone’s eyes is creepy.
Remember to stay focussed on the conversation at hand. Letting your eyes wander all over the room can leave the interviewer with the impression that you were being dishonest, uncomfortable, or disinterested.
Don’t fidget. People often tend to move their hands or legs when they are nervous. This can give employers the impression that you lack confidence or that you haven’t prepared for the job interview. Similarly, rocking back and forth in your chair or swiveling it from side to side can be unconscious gestures made in stressful situations. We see this in media training where people are played back video of themselves being interviewed on camera – and they had no idea of the nervous ticks they were showing. Keep your hands and legs still, or make friendly conversational gestures not nervous fidgeting.
Don’t rush to speak. In stressful situations, such as in the pressure of a job interview, people tend to speak very fast. When asked a question, we often rush to begin talking immediately, filling in the silence that can sound thunderous to our own ears. This causes people to fall into verbal traps, like starting sentences that they don’t know how to end, becoming overly repetitive, or using filler bridge words such as ‘like’ or ‘um.’ This can make you sound less articulate than you really are.
Pause for three seconds before beginning to answer. The length of silence always seems much longer in your own head than it does to the people you’re talking to. Take a few seconds to think about the question and formulate your answer before you start speaking.
Pay attention to the interviewer’s body language. This can give you clues about how friendly or formal to the environment is. Your own interactions should be at a similar level of formality.
Nod your head slightly to show you are listening when spoken to, and lean forward at times to show interest. Don’t cross your arms and legs. That can make you appear defensive or even hostile, and that is not how you want to come across to someone deciding whether or not they want you on their team.
The hard skills on your resume landed you the interview, but the job interview is all about presentation, personality, and fit. At least as much information about these is coming from your body language as from the words you actually say.
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