Body Language

Body Language in Job Interviews

The Center for Management Communication now offers a graduate course in Advanced Persuasive Communication that addresses, among other topics, how to read your interviewer’s body language during your next job interview. The next time you face a hiring committee or an individual across a table or via a Skype cam, pay attention to the six important details listed below.

  1. Learn to distinguish genuine from social smiles. A genuine smile contracts the eyebrows, pulls the cheeks upward, and tightens both the upper and lower eyelids, with smilers’ lips stretched tightly. In contrast, a social smile tends to involve simply the stretching of lips and contraction of only the upper and lower eyelids. We tend to smile politely as an acknowledgment response to what someone has said, rather than as a positive reaction to what was said.
  2. Avoid self-comforting behaviors when answering questions, like touching your neck, patting your clothing, or swiping your hands on your trousers. These behaviors signal a lack of confidence or positive discomfort with either the situation or a specific question. When you exhibit these behaviors, you’re undermining your audience’s confidence in what you’re saying—whether they’re conscious of it or not.
  3. Watch how you sit—and how your interviewer also sits. Taking up space signifies a level of self-confidence and gives you greater authority than if you minimize the space you occupy. Tucking your feet beneath your chair signifies submission and a lack of self-confidence. Instead, try crossing your legs and putting your arms on your chair’s arms, if available, or on the table before you. If your interviewer’s posture mirrors yours, this condition, called isopraxis, indicates that your interviewer is sympathetic with your statements—and feels comfortable with you.
  4. For high confidence, use big gestures, particularly the steepling of your hands. Before you enter the interview room, try making large gestures, which research indicates can help give a temporary boost to your testosterone levels, also bolstering your self-confidence. If you want to make an especially convincing point, steeple your fingers by placing your palms together with fingers spread. This high-confidence gesture tends to occur frequently in high status individuals and discourages your audience from disagreeing with you.
  5. Watch your interviewer’s torso. If your interviewer’s torso is canted toward you, called ventral exposure, you’ll see his or her body’s most vulnerable points exposed, including the torso, wrist, and inner arm. This display indicates a level of comfort and openness to what you’re saying or the identity you’re conveying. Be sure that you also use this open posture when you’re interviewing. The opposite, ventral denial, blocks access to others by crossing arms or legs, indicating disapproval or a lack of openness to the conversation taking place during interview.
  6. Make eye contact—but not too much. While research has shown that interviewers respond more positively to candidates who make frequent eye contact, if you make constant eye contact, your interviewer might suspect you of lying. Excessive eye contact is frequently indicative of deception, while glancing away to recall a detail or clarify your thoughts is normal and indicative of thoughtfulness. Just ensure you make frequent, but not constant, eye contact.

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