First Things First: How Body Language Affects First Impressions During an Interview

Nancy Anderson
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Believe it or not, body language plays a huge role in your job interview. How you carry yourself with your mannerisms can affect someone's first impression of you more than your great answers to interview questions. There are several reasons why body language has a say in whether you land the job or not.

It's All in How Humans Move

Humans can produce many more gestures, postures and signs with their bodies than with their voices. The human body can create 700,000 signs, 250,000 facial expressions, 5,000 different hand gestures and 1,000 various postures. Up to 95 percent of human communication happens nonverbally.

In a job interview, someone's first impression of you is 55 percent body language and just 7 percent verbal. Therefore, it makes sense that you should master the art of portraying yourself with confidence through your gestures, appearance and demeanor as you sit through the interview.

Subtle Clues

Nonverbal communication conveys subtle clues to a stranger, so you should try to impress a hiring manager with certain behaviors. Body language leaves an impression on an interviewer, and that impression can make or break your chances of getting the job.

Nonverbal cues, gestures and physical movements can cause an interviewer to think you're arrogant, confident, stressed, anxious or friendly. Presenting yourself well can clue another person into your demeanor.

For example, many jobs require great interpersonal skills. A hiring manager may pay close attention to how to present yourself to other people as part of the job's qualifications. Do others feel comfortable around you or awkward? The answer to that question may occur in how you say something as opposed to giving the right verbal response. Coming off as aloof or selfish does not lend to getting along well with others.

Comfort Level

Sometimes an interview simply comes down to the hiring manager's comfort level with you. If you leave an uncomfortable first impression, HR might go with another person. The reason comfort level is important involves coming across as a good fit for the company. You might have all the right qualifications, skills and education to back your claim that you're the right person for the job. However, if the person responsible for hiring you doesn't feel comfortable around you, then you may leave a bad first impression.

Starting Off Right

Nonverbal cues display your personality to interviewers. Do you smile a lot during your face time? Do you have a firm handshake? How is your posture sitting in the chair? Get the right body language to leave the perfect first impression on your interviewers.

First impressions happen within the first five minutes of an interview, so you must get it right very quickly. Start with walking into the interview room. Do you appear confident or cautious? Do you walk tall and with a purpose, or do you slink slowly into the room? A warm smile, a firm handshake and eye contact when you introduce yourself all convey to the other person that you're someone they can get along with on a daily basis.

The aphorism goes, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." Because hiring managers have a lot to do and other candidates to interview, that saying is never truer than when you apply for a job.

Photo Courtesy of aapkacareer.com at Flickr.com

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Kristen the best advice that anyone can offer is to be yourself. Sure there are interview etiquette rules but don't let them distract you too much. A smile while looking into their eyes followed up by a firm handshake is the best way to start. Don't worry about the seating as the interviewer will probably guide you. Sitting up straight is good but you want this interview to be interactive. You have questions that you brought along and you want to make sure that they are answered. As a hiring manager, if I was answering questions from a candidate and they were not taking notes as I answered, I would probably have to think twice about them. Remember you are interviewing them at the same time they are interviewing you. Is the hiring manager jotting things down on the copy of the resume that he has in front of him? More than likely he is and you should do likewise. Sitting perfectly straight with your hands folded in your lap may make him wonder what you are hiding. So make sure that you are not just listening but that you are actively involved in the interview.

  • Jacqueline Parks
    Jacqueline Parks

    One way to check out your own body language is through video. Have a friend conduct a mock job interview with you while your camera is rolling. Then review the footage keeping an eye out for both good and bad body language. This can help you uncover unconscious things you do that might turn off your interviewer.

  • Kristen Jedrosko
    Kristen Jedrosko

    I have heard in the past that when walking into an interview room it is best to first shake hands with the interviewers and then let them be seated and wait for them to ask you to take a seat. Is this true or would it come off that you are making yourself look inferior to them? I have also heard that during the interview it is best to sit tall, but leaned forward slightly with your hands folded neatly in front of you on the table to show that you are very interested in what they are saying and not distracted by something. Is that true as well or would that put some interviewers off to where they think you are pretending?

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    One of the conclusions I draw from the "comfort level" section is that some elements of the interview process are out of our control. Even with the right qualifications, preparation and appropriate body language, you might not be the candidate that the company feels the most comfortable with. When this happens, it's important not to take rejection personally and keep looking for a job that's a better fit.

  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    While leading off with a firm handshake, and maintaining eye contact and good posture throughout the interview all send a positive message to the interviewer, these actions can also make you feel more comfortable, professional and confident when you walk through the door. Being at ease during the interview allows you to answer questions in a thoughtful manner. In the end, hiring managers are trying to find people who seem trustworthy, confident and capable of completing job tasks - you can meet their criteria by dressing appropriately, appearing confident and eager to work, and by creating a professional resume that highlights your qualifications.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    While I agree with the notion that striking a good first impression contributes to your prospective employer taking you in, I would like to disagree with the idea that it can entirely condemn you to losing the job. With impressive qualifications, I think the first impressions only serve to ease the process for you. Furthermore the interview is mostly done in front of a panel of five or so people who may get different impressions of you when they first see you.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks @Jane. Great idea. Sometimes we just need to really see ourselves in order to make the change. @Hema that interview expects you to be at least a little bit nervous. If you weren't nervous, it would make him wonder why. Try taking some nice easy breaths and get comfortable. If you can, force your hands to relax on your lap or on the table. The bottom line is that it only lasts about 1/2 hour and then it's over. We can make it through anything for 1/2 hour. That interviewer is not going to look on your fidgeting as a negative but will know that it's just nerves. Now if you are fidgeting to the point where it's distracting to him, then yes you do need to learn some other techniques. I know that I have this terrible habit of speaking with my hands. I have to clasp them tightly on my lap when that urge comes. But I have learned that just a few breaths helps a lot. Anyone else experiencing fidgeting? Any suggestions for @Hema?

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    Despite my best preparations, there have been quite a few times that I’ve walked into an interview with my shoulders hunched and my hands shaking. Sometimes, the pressure of it all just gets to you. The next time I start fidgeting in an interview, is there anything I can do afterwards to mitigate that negative first impression?

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    I've always been involved in creative pursuits and while people do expect artistic types to be a bit more animated or eccentric than other people, this became a liability when I wanted to be taken seriously in corporate roles. I made a somewhat horrifying discovery one day when I happened to see in a mirror how I looked rocking in a chair, which was something I used to do when I was nervous. I learned to comport myself in a professional manner and it has made all the difference.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @William I have done both in person and Skype interviews. For me, personally, I don't really change my style. I will sit in front of my computer the same as if I was sitting in front of the interviewer. Granted they can only see the top of me but I still dress for the interview from head to toe. So I guess it's an individual thing. Just make sure that you don't lean in to the computer or laptop too far as that could be scary for the interviewer.:-) But keep the same interview techniques in mind. Over the phone, surprisingly enough, the interviewer can tell, just by your voice, what kind of expression you have. If you are smiling, it comes through. Best technique is to just be yourself.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    How does body language affect your interview style during a phone or video interview? The same concerns you have with an in-person interview may not be the same ones you have with one over the phone or on a laptop. What techniques can you use to improve your nonverbals with these other two types of interviews?

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    Body language is just as important a form of communication as spoken language. In fact, body language and words work together to convey information. We can say whatever we like: if we're not using the appropriate corresponding body language, the people we speak to won't trust us. Clearly, trust is a big issue in the hiring process, so it's vital to examine our body language habits before we attend interviews.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. It's tough to find a balance between confidence and politeness sometimes @Abbey. I guess everyone has their way of dealing with the high stress of an interview. One thing that job seekers has told us helps them is to videotape themselves to see just how they really act and move. Some people speak entirely with their hands. Can be very distracting for an interviewer when he looks at you and all he sees are hands waving in the air like you are getting ready to land an airplane or conduct an orchestra. Flipping your hair or twirling it around your fingers is also very distracting. So try taping yourself. You might be surprised. Always remember, you only get one chance to make a great first impression.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    Comfort level is extremely important, and can be the beginning or the end for some job candidates. There are a variety of reasons an interviewer may not feel comfortable with you. You may be too imposing and bold, or just the opposite. They may find you awkward, and in some cases, may even be intimidated by you. Do your best to find the right balance of confidence and politeness to avoid any comfort issues during your interview.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    First impressions are important and are very telling for hiring managers. However, I do think that there is a level of understanding that some people are going to be nervous or awkward during an interview. It doesn't always indicate that they will be awkward on the job. Interviews are very stressful and sometimes bring out the worst quirks due to nervousness.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Mike try doing a mock interview in front of a camera. You could get a friend or family member to ask you questions and then see how you respond. Check out your movements. Are you hands waving around all of the time? Are you making faces? Is your attention wondering? Are you looking everywhere but at the interviewer? If you went to a local college, you could contact their career services and set up some times to do some mock interviews, too. It might help you to see some things that you need to change so that you can modify it prior to the interview. Hope that helps.

  • Mike Van de Water
    Mike Van de Water

    What are some methods that job candidates can use to improve their body language in a way that seems natural? Good hiring managers can see right through a carefully constructed facade, so simply attempting to dial up the charm or charisma seems like it could backfire pretty badly. How can you build that baseline of confidence so that your body language is simply an extension of who you are?

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