By Joleen Little BVSc MRCVS
How you appeal to an employer goes beyond what’s on paper. Your work experience may show your ambition and qualifications, but what does your slouching say?
Body language is a form of communication, and it pays to be mindful of the message you’re sending with it. During a job interview, you’ll want to use it to showcase not only your best professional self, but also your genuine personality.
What is body language and why is it important in an interview?
Body language boils down to what you’re communicating without speaking. These nonverbal cues can include your posture and eye contact (or lack thereof) as well as toe tapping, pen clicking, and other common actions you may not think about.
“We read each other’s body language and vocal delivery to make hundreds of snap judgments that affect whether we like, trust, and respect a person,” says Muse career coach Eloise Eonnet, who’s an expert in interviewing, communication, and public speaking. “These snap judgments powerfully impact a decision of whether to hire someone or not.”
The goal is to communicate strength, assuredness, and confidence at your interview, but not at the expense of being relaxed and personable. So much of that comes down to what you express beyond just your words.
8 Body Language Tips for Your Next Interview
Because body language can communicate so much—and interviewers are paying attention—you’ll want to be just as prepared to give positive nonverbal cues as you are to answer interview questions. Here are eight tips you can use to send the right message.
- Make a solid first impression
Your interview begins as soon as you enter the building. Just as you’ll want to treat everyone you meet during the interview process (not just the hiring manager) with respect, you’ll want to exude confidence and poise throughout (not just while you’re literally sitting down for your interview).
When you enter the office and connect with the receptionist, make sure that you maintain strong eye contact and introduce yourself with confidence. If you are initially led to a waiting area, sit upright in a comfortable position while you wait.
When you meet the interviewer, stand up and introduce yourself with a warm, genuine smile and a firm handshake.
- Make eye contact
Eye contact is essential because it showcases your confidence in yourself and in your answers.
In practice, you should avoid looking all around the room, looking down at your watch, or not making eye contact at all, as it makes you appear apprehensive and distracted.
Eye contact is also the basis for making connections and building relationships. Your listener will only feel truly engaged with you if you are looking at them. At the end of the day, the interview is just a conversation with another human being. Make a strong connection at that level, and you are doing yourself a favour.
- Be responsive and listen to understand
It’s only natural to want to tell the interviewer all about yourself and the accomplishments and experiences that make you the perfect candidate.
But don’t forget to listen empathetically and engage with what the interviewer is saying as well.
The goal is to stay alert and responsive. When interviewing, lean slightly forward toward your interviewer. This sends the message that you are open, interested, and involved in the conversation. Giving a genuine nod can show you’re listening and tilting your head slightly to one side can help you come across as someone who’s friendly and approachable.
- Remember your posture
The way we hold our bodies tells lots of stories at an unconscious level: Is the person confident and engaged, or is the person shy and in retreat?
Posture is the first clue and impacts the way we are heard, regardless of how great our stories are.
Slouching can translate as a lack of energy and confidence. So, make sure you’re sitting up straight and think of keeping your shoulders back rather than up. On the other end of the spectrum, being stiff can easily be associated with being nervous.
- Be mindful of your hands
Interviewers are trying to get a sense of who you are, so let your personality shine through! This includes talking with your hands if that comes naturally to you. Some candidates feel self-conscious about doing so but stifling a trait like this can lead to unnecessary fidgeting. So, feel free to use your hands to communicate effectively and genuinely.
Otherwise, when you’re not talking, put your hands in a neutral position and hold them still to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to them.
- Remember your facial expressions
How our face rests in a neutral position can give the wrong impression. You may appear bored or disinterested if you hold eye contact for too long without smiling or raising your eyebrows in expression. Alternatively grinning like a Cheshire cat can be quite alarming for the interviewer!
- Leave well
Make sure your exit is just as strong as your entrance, regardless of how you feel the interview went. We are often our own worst critics, and it won’t do you any favours to showcase your disappointment by giving in to that slouch or looking at your feet dejectedly.
Repeat the steps from the entrance, including a genuine smile and a firm handshake, adding a “thank you” for your interviewer’s time. Place your chair back where you found it before you entered and keep your shoulders back before closing the door gently behind you.
If the interviewer walks you to the exit or reception, be sure to keep your energy up. You can use this time to ask general questions or make relevant small talk, whatever feels most comfortable. Try to maintain your composure until you’re out of sight.
It’s completely OK if all these tips don’t come naturally to you. Take the time to get in front of another person (or a mirror) and practice! Sit in your computer or living room chair (potentially in your interview outfit) and identify which position feels most comfortable. You can go through the motions with a friend and ask them to provide constructive feedback. They might notice your eyes wander a lot or you tend to play with your hands when you’re not sure about your answer. If you know your interview will be remote, hop on a video call with that friend. They can help you figure out which angles look best or let you know if you appear too stoic.
What If It’s a Remote Interview?
Many clinics are shifting toward video interviews for at least part of their hiring processes. COVID-19 sparked this change for many practices.
For some candidates, a video call eases the anxiety that can come along with the interview portion of the hiring process.
But with a little prep, you can still use your body language to help communicate what a great fit you are for the job. Your posture is still important, so be sure to adjust your chair height and camera angle so you can sit straight up. Put the videoconferencing window right by the camera so you can look straight into it to simulate eye contact and try not to look away at other notes or windows on your screen. And make sure you troubleshoot any potential setup and technical issues—such as camera angles, proper lighting, outside noise control—prior to your call to limit the need for shifting and adjusting during your interview. Fidgeting doesn’t translate well virtually either and can cause unnecessary distractions.
You can nod and smile to show you’re listening (rather than using verbal cues and inadvertently muting the other person’s microphone). And don’t be afraid to talk with your hands, even in a video interview.
If this seems like a lot to think about on top of what you’re going to say, take a deep breath and remember: Nerves are a natural part of the interview process. But you’ve made it this far, and you have the credentials and expertise. So don’t let something like body language stand in the way of you and your next job.