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Interviews can represent challenging times for the best of us. It doesn’t matter what kind of job you’re applying for; we’ve all experienced those sweaty palms and elevated heart beats ahead of an interview at some point, in spite of the many hours we’ve spent preparing for the meeting! Endless Googling of the business’ news, studying of LinkedIn profiles and perfecting of strong CV experiences that could somehow be woven into the interview now just form part of the standard interview prep.
And yet despite all the research in the world, and the possible purchase of a slightly too expensive outfit for the occasion, sometimes we don’t quite make it. Why?
Each case is of course unique, and there are no hard and fast rules, but one of the most important things to consider when interviewing (or in any social situation where you want to make a good impression!) is body language. As humans we respond in an emotional way to one another, much of the time completely unconsciously.
In fact, when we communicate face to face, words account for just 7% for how the overall message is received vs 38% tone of voice (how we say it) and a whopping 55% body language (1).
So how do we overcome unconscious behaviour? How can we manage others’ perceptions of us? While there’s much that is beyond our control, there are also plenty of behaviours we can knowingly modify.
1. Don’t Sweat It
While not an entirely pleasant topic, perspiration is pretty common and it can also be a real whistle-blower when it comes to showing your nerves. Clammy palms are obvious signs of overzealous pores, however sticky underarms are also a giveaway depending on your choice of outfit. But these things are easily avoidable. Carry an alcohol-based sanitizer with you and use it on your palms before you shake hands: the alcohol will temporarily dry off the sweat (if you don’t have access to sanitizer try wiping your hands on a tissue). If you’re also prone to sweating under the arms, simply keep your jacket on.
2. The Handshake
They say the first minute of meeting someone new can account for up to 90% of a person’s impression of you, so make it count. In a job interview scenario, ideally you will want to convey confidence and approachability. As a first port of call, be standing when you shake someone’s hand. You can either be seated while you wait and get up to greet them, or remain standing until they invite you to be seated, but make sure you’re stood up. It’s a sign of respect and equally, it’s a sign of confidence.
The shake of the hand is incredibly important as well and is a very clear indicator of how you feel about yourself. Are you flimsy, weak and fearful or self-assured, confident and friendly? A strong handshake does not mean wagging their arm off for ten minutes. Practice with a friend or even your recruiter in advance to get it right! And make sure you don’t forget to look them in the eye and smile as you greet them.
3. Eye Contact
Eye contact cannot be overrated. It is exceptionally important not least because it makes the person you are communicating with feel listened to, understood and acknowledged. From the initial handshake through to the interview and the goodbye, maintain consistent eye contact and try to manage this with all the people in the room if you can, not just the person asking the question. Eye contact, like the handshake, is symbolic of self-assurance and inspires authenticity and trust. But, don’t stare! Break away from time to time and keep it natural.
4. Be Open
Whether you’re sat at a table, or seated across from one another, you can maintain the appearance of staying engaged with your posture. Many guide books will advise mirroring the other person’s body language. But really, if they have terrible body language you absolutely shouldn’t! Keep your arms by your side or resting in front of you. Never cross them. Equally, keep your posture upright and don’t slouch.
If anyone’s ever commented that you can’t sit still or that you fidget, take note. You might need to practice keeping your hands still in your lap or consciously holding a pose for a little longer than usual.
5. Tone Of Voice
Like the eye contact and the smile, you want to appear engaged when speaking. Project your voice to the interviewer confidently and with enthusiasm. They will need to see you’re capable of demonstrating what you say you can do, and there’s no better way of showing this than with a strong tone of voice. Keep the volume and tone consistent. Feel free to be light in some places and a little more serious where it’s relevant. Despite being a professional interview, in most instances your interviewer will want to like you so try not to sound too robotic!
Some of the above may not come naturally at first but a little practice will pay massive dividends. We are always here to help as well, so feel free to get in touch if you’d like some additional assistance with interview coaching.
(1). Albert Mehrabian, 1971