What Your Body Language Tells an Interviewer About You as an Employee

John Krautzel
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An interviewer gets a first impression of you the second you walk in the door. By the time you've shaken hands and taken your seat, the interviewer may already have decided whether she's interested in hiring you or not, and that's before she's even asked a single question. What's helping her make up her mind so fast? It's your body language. What you do with your body and face sends all sorts of messages to an interviewer, for better or for worse. Take a look at some of the messages you may be sending inadvertently.

You're Lazy

When you lean back too far or slouch to one side during an interview, you're sending a hidden message that you're not a hard worker. Instead, imagine a string is attached to the top of your head and pulling you up to the ceiling to sit up straight and look attentive, but relaxed. Sit with your feet grounded on the floor, and try to avoid crossing your legs.

You're Nervous or Defensive

These message both come from how you're sitting. If you sit right on the edge of your chair, you look as if you really don't want to be in the room. If you sit absolutely stiff, you come across as nervous. If you cross your arms and legs as you speak, you block yourself off from the interviewer, sending a subtextual message that you're not comfortable. Practice sitting ahead of time until a straight, relaxed posture comes naturally to you.

Your hands can also send messages of nerves. Don't clench your fists or bite your nails, both of which send subconscious nervousness vibes into the room. Fidgeting in general is a bad idea, as it distracts the interviewer. Avoid jiggling your legs, tapping on the arm of a chair or playing with your jewelry.

You're Aggressive

Performing sharp, pointed motions with your hands makes you seem overly aggressive. Don't chop the air in front of you while you're talking, and never point directly at your interviewer or anyone or else in the room.

You're Bored

Avoid rubbing your head, neck or eyes during an interview. These actions make you seem disinterested in what's going on.

You're Not Trustworthy

Playing with your hair sends a message that you're not trustworthy. Some people think that the gesture of rubbing your nose also sends a dishonest message. In general, it's best to keep your hands away from your face and head in any interview.

You're Overly Eager to Please

If you have the habit of nodding automatically as other people talk, try to take control of it. Excessive nodding is distracting. It also makes it look as if you're a "yes man" who agrees with everything that a person in authority says. It's okay to nod once in a while to indicate that you're listening. Tilting your head to one side a bit also sends this positive message, and it may help to control excessive head nodding.

Fortunately, your body language can send some positive messages as well during an interview. Take a look at these upbeat messages that your face and body can send.

You're Paying Attention

One of the main ways you send this message is through alert eye contact. Don't stare blankly at the interviewer, but keep meeting her eyes repeatedly as you talk. If you are being interviewed by more than one person, don't ignore anyone in favor of the senior person in the room. Spread your eye contact around, always returning to the person who asked you the most recent question. Eye contact is especially important when you shake hands with your interviewer; hold the contact just a little longer at this moment to make a good impression.

You're Honest

If you sit with your hands palm up in your lap, you're sending a message that you're honest and open to new ideas. It's okay to use your hands to gesture as you speak, but do it naturally and be careful not to overdo.

You're Pleasant to Be Around

Not surprisingly, smiling indicates that you are a positive, upbeat person. Enter the room smiling, and keep a smile on your face as you answer questions. Doing so helps you enjoy the interview more, which makes you come across as relaxed and approachable. Feel free to laugh, especially when your interviewer does.

Control your body language during interviews to send positive messages. Practice the way you enter a room, sit and pay attention to help eliminate unintended negative messages and let your interviewer know you're worth paying attention to.

Photo Courtesy of bm_adverts at Flickr.com


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Kristen thanks for your comment. So very true. I remember my first interview also. I was only 17 at the time and the position was sort of an all-purpose type of position where I had many hats. I sat at a table in front of three people; the main boss, my supervisor and a co-worker. It was a terrifying experience but I made it through and got the job. Not sure how, though. I was fidgeting and talking with my hands and not doing any of the things that you are supposed to do while interviewing. I learned also and had plenty of practice while in the military and in college. I stress all of the time how important it is to try to practice interviewing ahead of time. Sure it's hard to get a good friend or even a family member to take it seriously and ask you thought provoking questions as well as trust them to give you honest feedback. That is why career services at your local college are so valuable. Another thing that I found to be a great eye opener is to tape the interview. We never realize just how much our face shows what we are thinking or feeling and we certainly don't realize what our body language shows until we see it for ourselves.

  • Kristen Jedrosko
    Kristen Jedrosko

    Body language and how you present yourself might be two of the most important things in the interview process. Practicing interviewing at career centers or with others can really help you get comfortable so when that day comes you aren't on edge and giving off nervous vibes. I know when I had my first interview I was very unprepared. I had never interviewed before or been in that type of situation and I really wished I would have taken the time to visit the career center at my former college. By the time my first interview was over I knew I wasn't going to get the job, just because of how nervous and uncomfortable I was. After that, I spent a lot of time practicing answering questions and doing pretend interviews with professors and other people. By the time I had an interview for another job I was on top of my game and ready to go. This time, I succeeded and got the job!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Jacob I tend to talk with my hands - a lot. I do try to keep my hands on my lap, if I can - or clasped on the table in front of me. But, inevitably, once we are discussing something that really animates me - the hands are going to fly. It can be seen as unprofessional but it is who I am and it is who they will hire if they choose me. I have always been told that talking with my hands is unprofessional but it's part of who I am and, even though current wisdom says to stifle that urge, I still let the hands fly! I would rather they see the real me than the "interview" me.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    If you are naturally a person that talks with their hands, is it advisable to try to dramatically change that behavior before undertaking serious interviews? It seems that being comfortable and natural might be more important then keeping your hands settled in your lap to indicate honesty.

  • Jacqueline Parks
    Jacqueline Parks

    These are some great tips. If you really think your body language is a problem, some community colleges and career centers offer courses designed to improve communication including the non-verbal communication of body language. Counselors can also help in this area. Communication in general is so important that I would seek outside help it I thought I had an ongoing problem in that area.

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    I agree that smiling is one of the best gestures a person can make in an interview. In the last few years in particular I have made a renewed effort to improve my smiling habits by practicing while watching television. I make sure to smile when I speak on the telephone as well. It's true when they say people can hear you smile.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    While I agree that body language is very telling, I don't think that sharp hand movements or gestures always indicates an aggressive nature. It can also show employers that you are confident in what you are explaining or discussing. There is a fine line between aggressiveness and confidence, which is why interviews are often tricky.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Erin thanks for the question. To me, nodding my head means that I am listening and maybe even agreeing. As long as the head nodding isn't because the person is falling asleep! @Erica so very true. I have interviewed people who came in to the interview and would be very soft-spoken so that I had lean forward to hear them. Not good that way, either. Especially not when I had already "heard" that person when they first arrived and they were not soft spoken at that time! Inflection in the voice is very important - especially if you are going to have to listen to that person speaking every day!

  • Erin H.
    Erin H.

    I'm not so sure that nodding when listening goes the impression that you're a "yes, man." Isn't it a sign of engagement that you are making eye contact and nodding to show interest and understanding? Of course absentmindedly nodding after everything that the interviewer says is annoying, but showing interest isn't a bad thing, is it?

  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    I think it's also important to maintain proper vocal inflection when speaking, especially during an interview. While working for a small publishing company, I interviewed a young woman for an internship - she was very nice, well-dressed, but she ended all of her sentences as if they were questions. It was very annoying and even though she was qualified, I ended up hiring someone else because I thought her inflections would annoy clients and other employees. When practicing for an interview, answer a few questions out loud so you can hear yourself. This will also keep you from speaking too quickly or too softly during the actual interview.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Lydia it's tough having a Skype interview because - well your face and his/hers are right there - boom. It probably wouldn't be so close in an in-person interview. I think that you should be prepared in the same way that you would if it was at the company. Dress for an interview - and not just on the top, either. What if you have to get up to do something such as answer the door? Is the interviewer going to see your pj bottoms or worse? Also make sure that the background is clutter free. For instance, my camera will show the bookcases behind me. Right now I wouldn't want anyone to see them let alone a hiring manager. So you have to think about that, too. @Jay try taping yourself and then playing it back. You might be surprised. Even speakers - who talk at conferences, etc. - need to do this. They need to see just how they look when they are scratching their nose, playing with their hair, bobbing their head or any other distracting behavior. So try it and see how it goes. It can be a real eye opener.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    A lot of interviews these days are conducted via skype or other video conference. Because these are visual meetings, I think some of the rules for in person apply. A lot of focus is on your face and shoulders (if visible). What are some tips for displaying positive body language on video?

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    These tips are great, because they make it much easier to practice positive behaviors in advance of an interview. Many of us do things we're not aware of that make us seem less confident or honest than we really are. To avoid conveying the wrong impression, I think it's important to figure out which of these behaviors we exhibit, so that we can work on changing them.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    I agree with the idea that the interviewer actually views you as a clumsy person when you pose in a complacent position. I understand that the tension that precedes that interview moment is so real that you may want to act complacent to appear composed, but it sends the wrong signal to your prospective employer. Its good if you rather exhibit your composure in the manner you respond to questions.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    So true @William. Let the interviewer know that you are listening by nodding or even by rephrasing what he said back to him. Then you will start to see him nodding right along. Always a good sign.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I'd rather seem over-eager and agreeable by nodding too much as opposed to not nodding enough. I know it may seem annoying, but I'd err on the side of showing I pay attention. Nodding isn't enough, though--say something constructive after all of that nodding so the interviewers know you listened.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Abbey try some mock interviews. Most of us try mock interviews with a family member or a friend but I have found that it's better to do this with a stranger. Maybe you could try it through the career services at your local college. But if that's not possible, do the mock interview and have it video-taped. It's amazing when you view yourself. You can see all kinds of things that you might need to correct and seeing yourself in action can really help. Have you ever watched someone giving a speech? I mean really watched their body language, hand movements, etc. Video tape yourself and it will really help you on your next interview.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I have always been the type of person that fidgets and squirms, and I have a hard time reminding myself of the rules of body language during interviews. I have a habit of crossing my legs at the ankles to keep my feet and legs still, but the article suggests to not cross your legs. What are some tips for someone like me who has a hard time sitting still to make it through an interview without sending bad signals?

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