Body language tips for job interviews

We all know that appearance is important for creating a good first impression. But this is not only about how you look, a good impression is also achieved by how you move. In this article, we will delve into some of the most important aspects of body language and how to use them to your advantage in your next interview whether that is in person or via a video call.

Body language is the way we portray thoughts and feelings and, although they are usually subconscious, if you are conscious of them you can control them and leverage them to make a good impression in job interviews and other persuasive situations.

From the moment you enter the building for your next interview to the moment you leave, you can use body language to portray yourself as confident, engaged, professional, and enthusiastic.

In addition, in the new world of remote working, coming across well in a video call presents a whole range of new concerns. So, even if you feel you are brilliant at making a good impression face-to-face, you should consider the natural body language you use may have to be adapted to create the same effect on camera.

Before the Interview

It is good practice to consider your interview has started from the moment you enter the building.

You should expect to be evaluated on how you greet the receptionist and how you wait for the interview to start. So be sure to introduce yourself to the person who signs you in and make polite conversation. When in the waiting room, sit with good posture and try not to fidget.

Also, avoid obviously engaging yourself in something unrelated to the interview, like watching videos on loudspeaker or having a phone call is a definite no, it is a better idea to use this time to review your notes.

Place your bag to the left side of your chair to minimize any awkwardness when going for the initial handshake with your interviewer. 

The handshake

Many interviewers place a great amount of importance on the initial handshake, so here are some things to consider when you go to greet your interviewer.

  • Make sure your hand is dry, not clammy
  • Clasp the recipient’s hand firmly but not enough to hurt them
  • The handshake should last 1-2 seconds
  • Maintain eye contact during the handshake and smile.

Walking

The way you walk can often portray your level of confidence, so you should try to walk smoothly and with the best posture possible. Also, ensure you keep a firm grasp on any of your belongings to avoid dropping them which will make you appear nervous and clumsy.

Possessions

To avoid disrupting the flow of the conversation it is a good idea to place anything you will need on the table before your interview begins. If you have notes, place the sheets so you can easily read them at a glance, rather than holding them in your hands which can betray your nerves with trembling fingers.

Keep a bottle of water in easy reach in case your throat dries up, and feel free to take a sip to give yourself time to formulate an answer if you are struggling with a tricky question. 

Eye contact

The correct amount of eye contact can be hard to get right, especially when you are stressed and nervous. Too little and you will look nervous or dishonest, but too much and you could come across as aggressive and make your interviewer feel uncomfortable.

When you are very nervous it can be easy to overdo the eye contact even to the point where you forget to blink, which is sure to put your interviewer off.

The trick is to maintain good eye contact when listening and responding to questions, but break eye contact in between. This is the most natural approach that will make you come across best. 

Posture

Sitting with the correct posture will make you seem confident, interested and professional, so avoid slouching in your chair. Here are some pointers for getting the right:

  • If possible, choose a straight-backed chair
  • Sit up straight with your shoulders down
  • Keep your chin up and at a right angle to your neck
  • From time to time, lean forward slightly to look more engaged in the conversation

Don’t cross arms or legs

It is easy to become self-conscious about what you are doing with your hands and legs, especially if you feel you are fidgeting or gesturing too much. But despite this, it is important to avoid crossing your arms or legs as this can make you appear closed off, defensive, upset, and disinterested in the interview.

Not only that, crossing your legs can cut off circulation and make them fall asleep which will mean you have to stretch them out, and stretching in your chair can make you look even more disinterested or overly relaxed. Instead, keep your feet planted on the floor and keep your hands resting on the desk, at your sides, or on the arms of your chair.

Hands

Open palms facing upwards are the best way to portray openness, honesty, and confidence. So try and maintain this while resting your hands in sight. It is usually fine to gesture as you would in normal conversation, so long as your gestures show your eagerness and enthusiasm rather than simply distracting from your words. 

Restlessness habits

Keep an eye on any habits that you have that may make you look rude, restless, or nervous, and try to suppress them. Some ideas for things to look out for include: 

  • Jiggling your legs or tapping your feet
  • Biting your nails
  • Cracking your knuckles
  • Twirling or touching your hair too much
  • Playing with a pen, notes or other desk items
  • Fidgeting your hands and fingers. 

Breathe deeply

A great way to calm your nerves and suppress those restless habits mentioned above is to take a long deep breath. Pumping more oxygen into your brain with a deep breath will also keep you more alert. Plus, you can also use a deep breath to give yourself more thinking time when struggling to formulate an answer. 

Yawning

Although yawning is completely natural, it is also true that we are more likely to yawn while bored and this is not the image you want to portray. Make sure you suppress any yawns during the interview and, if you are used to caffeine, it can be a good idea to have a cup of coffee or an energy drink before the interview starts. Just make sure you have a breath mint to avoid bad breath. 

Mirroring body language

A good way to get people on your side is to mirror their body language. Unobtrusively copying the other party’s body language is an old sales technique that demonstrates empathy and has been proven to make people feel more connected. Some easy ways to do this is to mimic your interviewer’s hand positions and smile when they smile.

Responsiveness

Responding to what your interviewer is saying shows you are engaged and enthusiastic about the role. However, you should avoid saying stuff like ‘that’s amazing’ or ‘great’ which will break the flow of the conversation by talking over them and make you seem unprofessional. Instead, you can respond in a less obtrusive way with a genuine smile, nod, or express agreement with an ‘mmhmm’. 

It is important to note that although nodding is a good way to show your interest and agreement with what they are saying, nodding too much can be off-putting and make you look ungenuine.

In a similar way, if you smile too often or hold a smile for too long it can quickly look fake, just like when you have to keep smiling too long for a photo to be taken, so a quick smile now and then is a better tactic.

Also, keep in mind that a smile will naturally make you feel happier and therefore more confident, and if you smile while talking your tone of voice will also sound more enthusiastic and agreeable.   

Special advice for video interviews

Due to the pandemic, many businesses are now embracing working from home, so many job seekers will now be interviewing from their own homes. In many ways, this can make the interview easier as you won’t have to worry about your handshake, walking, crossing your legs, the waiting room, etc. On the other hand, it means body language and eye contact are even more important.

Maintain good eye contact
During a video interview, it can sometimes be difficult to know exactly where to look. Rather than making eye contact with the interviewer's face on your computer screen, look directly at your camera, usually located on the top of your screen. This way you will seem to be making direct eye contact with your interviewer.

It is tempting to look at the video of yourself to check you are looking engaged in the interview, but this should be avoided as the interviewer could see your eyes focused elsewhere making you look bored and disengaged.

Keep gesturing to a minimum
It is natural to use hand gestures while talking and it is usually a good thing in a face-to-face interview. However, on a video call, gestures can be too distracting and generally do not work as well.

Of course, this does not mean you need to avoid gesturing completely, just be mindful of how it looks for the interviewer when you are moving your hands in front of the camera too often.

It is a good idea to practice your hand gestures in front of the camera before the interview to get an idea of how distracting they are.

Leaning forward
We have already mentioned how leaning closer to your interviewer can make you look more engaged, but you need to be careful when employing this technique during a video interview.

If you lean in too far towards the camera, you can quickly turn into one giant eye on your interviewer's screen which will be distracting for them and unprofessional on your part, so a few inches forward is probably enough to show them you are listening.

Conclusion

With so much advice outlined above it is easy to feel overwhelmed and more stressed than ever. But it is important to note that most of the time body language and eye contact comes naturally.

In stressful situations like interviews, it can be easy to feel awkward, but if you remain relaxed then you should have no problem coming across as confident, enthusiastic, and engaged. The best way to remain relaxed is to ensure you are prepared for all aspects of the interview.

So, in addition to doing your research on the role and preparing answers, you should also practice your body language so you can feel as prepared and confident as possible in your next interview. This can be with friends or a recruiter and, if you are preparing for a video interview, it is important to sit in front of the camera and see for yourself and how your body language comes across. 


Author

Vicky Blom

As a recruiter, I have been helping candidates find a new job for over ten years. On this website I share my knowledge to help you make a good resume.