There are plenty of statistics about what percentage of communication is nonverbal. While nobody can really give an exact number—and surely it varies among different people and by the situation—we do know that body language, tone of voice, and other nonverbal cues play a significant role in how we and our messages are received.
Even without being able to precisely quantify it, there is a science to how nonverbal cues work. Many experts have dedicated careers to studying and reading body language. Obviously, it’s an application that can be very useful, especially when you’re trying to determine whether someone is being truthful.
Body language sends strong messages, and these messages are generally considered authentic and reliable. Your body language in an interview is a major factor in how well you sell yourself. An experienced interviewer understands how to read an applicant’s body language. But even one who doesn’t do so consciously is affected by it subconsciously, and it bears strongly on their overall impression of each person they meet with.
Here are some fundamental tips about using body language in an interview to communicate that you are open, honest, personable, respectful, confident, competent, and otherwise deserving of the job.
Using Body Language in an Interview
- The interviewer’s first impression of you sets the tone. Walk into the room with confident strides, standing up straight with your chin up and your eyes fixed on the interviewer.
- Your handshake should be moderately firm; it shouldn’t feel weak, but it’s also not a strength contest. Stick to three pumps of the hand, and hold eye contact for the duration of the shake.
- After the greeting, let the interviewer lead the way and wait for them to invite you to sit. This is respectful and mindful of business etiquette. Of course, if the interviewer leads you to a chair but doesn’t indicate that you should sit, take the initiative rather than stand there awkwardly.
- Sit with straight posture, your back straight against the back of the chair, shoulders back, chin up, eyes forward, knees pointing forward, and the soles of your feet flat on the floor.
- Keep your arms open, either on the arms of the chair or out pointing slightly away from your body on the desk or in the air while you gesture. Never cross your arms across your chest, as this comes across as defensive or stubborn. In general, if you physically close yourself off in any way with your arms, it communicates that you’re not open, honest, and receptive; alternatively, if your arms are open, you seem open. Also, tilt your palms upward while you speak to convey honesty.
- The same goes for crossing your legs; don’t do it. It doesn’t only make you seem closed off, but it’s also informal.
- Don’t put your briefcase, portfolio, or other objects on your lap or on the desk between yourself and the interviewer; a physical barrier like this also has the negative effect of closing you off.
- Refrain from touching your mouth or face, holding your hand in front of your face, or doing other things that obstruct the view of your face while you speak. Such actions communicate dishonesty and uncertainty.
- Gesture naturally in moderation, but avoid abrupt, sweeping, or otherwise dramatic gesturing. Never point at the interviewer or make chopping motions, as this is rude and perceived as aggression.
- Maintain eye contact with the interviewer most of the time. Lack of eye contact portrays a lack of interest, attention, and respect. But it’s normal to break eye contact occasionally and briefly; a constant stare is unnerving. Just don’t get lost staring out the window or at your feet.
- Lean slightly forward and nod every once in a while when the interviewer is offering an explanation to seem engaged and interested. Don’t, however, lean forward while being asked a question, as this can come across as aggression.
- Refrain from drumming your fingers, fidgeting, or playing with something in your hands or on the desk. This makes you seem nervous or disinterested and bored.
- At the end of the interview, shake hands the same as when you first came in, and leave similarly poised. Walk out confidently, but without looking like you’re hurrying. If you seem to rush, it says that you were uncomfortable or unhappy during the meeting.