Body language, or non-verbal communication known as Kinesics, refers to your posture and gestures. The way we move demonstrates how we’re feeling subconsciously, unless we’re trying to hide how we feel by deliberately making different gestures, such as if we’re feeling nervous or shy.
What you say out loud in day-to-day work life or in an interview is only half the story. Similar to tone, if you agree to do something that someone has asked you to do while looking directly at them and smiling, odds are you’re happy with that decision. If, however, you agree but are slouched in your chair and not looking at the person who has asked you, it’s quite clear that you’re not in love with the idea.
Your posture can reflect your emotion, attitude, and even what you plan to do next. Research on the subject has identified a whole variety of signals that we give off, centred around ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ postures.
These postures may reflect your confidence or the level of comfort you feel around an individual. For example, if you are nervous or uncomfortable then your posture may be ‘closed’ - arms folded and legs angled away from the person. If you’re comfortable with that person you may face them head on, perhaps with your arms unfolded. Usually the former posture would communicate disinterest while the latter would communicate readiness to listen.
So what are the best ways to check your body language in an interview scenario?
Watch your twitches
All of us fidget when we’re nervous or bored - hopefully, though, you won’t be bored in an interview. The things that we do whether nervous or bored are quite similar, such as fiddling with our hair, touching our faces, scratching or repeatedly crossing or uncrossing our legs.
If you know that you do some - or all - of these things when you’re nervous and you have an interview coming up, then some solid prep should be on the cards to help you settle those butterflies. Likewise, if you know you tend to go off-point when nervous, break down what you want to say into small memorable sentences that you can say, and then broaden on if prompted.
Think positive, look positive
Typical body language that shows engagement in a conversation include leaning forward slightly - though not too far, remember personal space! - and nodding when your interviewer is making a key point. Again, good interview prep will boost your confidence and let these traits come naturally.
No limp handshakes!
It’s a bit of a cliche, but receiving a limp handshake from a candidate is like nails down a blackboard for most interviewers. When scoring candidates for roles, Greg Stewart of the University of Iowa found that those with the highest handshake scores “were considered to be the most hireable by the interviewers”, and that a handshake was more impactful than “dress or physical appearance.”
This doesn't mean that breaking your interviewer’s hand would be preferable, though! Reduce the risk of sweaty palms by keeping your hands open (unclench those nervous fists), before an interview and maybe have some tissues or a handkerchief handy.
Make eye contact
Avoiding someone’s gaze is almost always a sign of nerves as opposed to disinterestedness, but in an interview scenario it could be interpreted as both. You obviously don’t want to be staring down your interviewer or flicking your gaze to and from their face, so making eye contact the appropriate amount is advised, such as when they’re asking you a question.
Maintaining eye contact when you shake hands at the beginning of the interview is good, as is when listening to your interviewer, and when you want to emphasise an important point about your experience, achievements etc. If there’s more than one person interviewing you then making eye contact with both of them is advised.
Avoid the Cheshire Cat grin
Time for some science. According to Discover Magazine, when you’re genuinely happy or something amuses you, a part of your brain called the basal ganglia is engaged, causing unconscious contracting of particular facial muscles.
If you’re forcing a smile, however, different facial muscles are used and your smile doesn’t look right, so your interviewer will know you’re forcing yourself to act differently to how you’re feeling. Smiling when you genuinely want to is therefore the best thing to do.
You can’t trick your body into being convincing if you don’t feel it yourself, so spending a good amount of time on your interview notes to settle nerves and boost confidence is the number one tip to help ensure a positive interview experience.