Body language can make or break a first impression.

There’s an oft-quoted “fact” that 55% of all communication is nonverbal. There’s no actual concrete evidence that this number – based on an estimate by Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages – is accurate but it looks good on paper. And whatever the actual number, what’s important to understand is that some communication is nonverbal. It doesn’t matter how much.

When you’re being interviewed for a job, the interviewer will look for, and pick up on, subtle cues that tell them whether you’re the person they want to hire or not. You, on the other side of the desk, will meanwhile be making an effort to come across as competent and likable.

What should you not do? I contacted body language expert Susan Constantine to ask for the top three body language mistakes candidates make in job interviews. Her answers were not exactly what I expected. Here they are:

Over smiling: “If you want to be taken seriously,” says Constantine, “you want to use a more neutral facial expression. People want to charm with a smile, but research shows smiling can actually diminish your perceived value. You’re not taken as seriously when you’re over smiling.” Also, forcing a smile can make you look kind of insane.

Bobbing your head too much: “Avoid consistently bobbing your head in an attempt to convey ‘I get it, I understand,’” says Constantine. “I recommend that you nod your head only on things that you feel passionate about.”

Leaning too far forward: Constantine explains, “We do want to be in an active listening position but we don’t want to lean too far forward. I want the interviewee to appear confident, but not leaning so far forward that they’re in the space of the interviewer.”

Those are the big three. Constantine says, “Because people want the job so badly, they tend to over smile, bob their head consistently, and lean forward. They’re trying too hard to be likable.”

Also, avoid is creating barriers. You might have heard this one before. “Crossing legs, crossing arms,” says Constantine. “This creates a barrier and many people will find it offensive.”

Finally, another thing that gets a lot of attention is mirroring. This is when you mimic the other person’s body language to create the feeling of having a rapport. They cross their legs, you cross your legs. They sit back, you sit back. It can be very effective, says Constantine, but you have be careful when attempting this.

“It works because when two people connect they synchronize their body language. If you look at someone like the president, when he’s meeting someone from another country, for example, they will walk with a similar width of stride, and copy each other’s stance, walk, and hand gestures. Because we know that people who mirror each other’s body language tend to think alike and connect.”
The danger, she says, is that it can look pretty obvious if you mirror exactly. “So many people are onto that technique that it tends to be overused.”

Instead of being a copycat, use more of a general imitation.

To recap: sit back, stop nodding your head, relax your smile, don’t cross your arms, and don’t copy, but gently mirror the interviewer’s body language.

That should go a long way towards creating an image of competent, likable calm. Your fabulous skills and qualifications will do the rest.