10 Body Language Mistakes That Sabotage Most Interviews
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Question — how much of what you “say” is actually interpreted through body language and tone of voice? Well, if we are to believe Albert Mehrabian, almost all of it.
Professor Albert Mehrabian has stated that only 7% of a message is conveyed verbally, through words. The other 93% is split between tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%). In fact, it’s widely known as the 7-38-55 rule.
Now, you may take or leave that kind of statistic, as it clearly cannot be true in all cases. And furthermore, it cannot include the written word. If it did, authors would not sell books, and we would never sign contracts!
But even so, it’s true that tone of voice and body language can betray our real feelings. And in a job interview, it’s important to take control of your body language as much as possible. After all, even though you may say all the right things, your body can be telling the interviewer a completely different story.
Here then are 10 body language mistakes to avoid. Keep them in mind before your next interview, and keep them under control when you’re in the hot seat. (See also: 16 Ways to Improve Your Body Language)
1. Don’t Make a Feeble First Impression
It’s been said that employers can spot the right candidate within 30 seconds, and that’s all about body language. Be confident, but not arrogant. Walk in with a smile, without fiddling with anything you’re wearing, and give a firm handshake. Firm, by the way, means just that; enough pressure to say you mean business, but not the Vulcan death grip that so many men (and some women) try and impose. Also, a floppy “dead fish” handshake is just as bad, if not worse. And if you’re sweating from nerves (or something else), wipe your hands before entering the room. That sweaty palm will not do you any favors.
2. Stop Touching Your Face!
Did you see the movie Contagion by Steven Soderbergh? A doctor played by Kate Winslet states that the average person touches their face between 2,000 and 3,000 times every day! You’ve probably touched it a few times while reading this article. Now, while you can’t stop yourself from doing this all the time, you must stop during the interview. We’re all guilty of touching our nose, our lips, and our forehead, but these all imply that we’re either nervous or dishonest. Perhaps we associate nose touching and dishonesty with Pinocchio. Also, you’re then going to shake hands again at the end of the interview. Any germophobics (think Donald Trump or Howie Mandell) will not be pleased that you’ve had your hands on your mouth and nose for the last half hour.
3. Don’t Do the Leg Wobble
Look around you today and see how often you spot the leg wobble. It comes in many forms. Some people will be seated at a table and will jiggle one leg up and down beneath it. Some will cross their legs and jiggle one foot. And some will have both legs going at once. It can be due to nervous energy, restless leg syndrome, or just bad habit. But whether you do it a little or a lot, do not do it in an interview. The message you’re sending is loud and clear — I’m anxious, and I can’t wait to get out of here. And a potential employer does not want to know that you can’t wait to be out of his or her presence.
4. It’s a Cliché Because It’s True: Don’t Cross Your Arms
You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again — and there’s a good reason. When you cross your arms, you are saying that you are closed off, closed minded, defensive, or just plain bored. It doesn’t matter if you find it the most comfortable way to hold your arms; this is an interview, and it’s not a good idea to practice the most widely known negative piece of body language in front of a potential employer.
5. Don’t Sit Up Too Straight, but Don’t Slouch Either
Have you ever been sat opposite someone who sat up so straight that you just couldn’t relax around them? It’s a strange feeling. They’re not really doing anything wrong; in fact, they’re displaying good posture, but at the same time it just seems like they’re being stiff and prudish. You don’t want to seem this way in front of the interviewer, and you also don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable around you, either. After all, who wants to work with someone who makes them feel awkward? So relax. Sit up straight, but not so straight it looks like you’re craning your neck to the ceiling. And of course, don’t be so relaxed that you slouch. This looks messy, disrespectful, and lazy.
6. Props Are for Magicians and Comedians
You may very well have your hands full when you enter the room. This can be unavoidable, especially when going from one interview to another. If you can, go to the interview with everything you need in one suitcase or bag. When you’re called to the interview, rise gracefully and pick it up from the side of your chair, then sit it down beside you when you sit for the interview. If you’re playing a balancing act with pens, organizers, your cell phone, resumes, and other paraphernalia, you look ill-at-ease, clumsy, and unprepared. And if you start dropping things, you make it even worse.
7. Eye Contact Is Good; Staring Is Not
It can be difficult to remember every point in a list, and some people will jot down memory aids and take them literally. One such point is “maintain eye contact.” Before you know it, you’re staring down the interviewer with a gaze that could put a statue to shame. As with all things in life, do this in moderation. You don’t want to have your eyes wandering the room looking for an exit, but you also don’t want to fix a laser-like stare into the interviewer's soul. Janine Driver, a body language expert with the nickname “the lyin’ tamer,” suggests that 60% eye contact is ideal, looking at the upper triangle of the other person’s face (this goes from the left to right eyebrow, crossing the bridge of the nose). If there’s more than one person in the room, make eye contact with each person. And don’t stare at the mouth or forehead. In fact, don’t stare, period. Remember to blink, please!
8. Watch Those Hands
If you’re following rule number four and rule number two, you may be wondering what on earth to do with your hands. This can be especially true if you’re someone who uses his or her hands a lot when talking, to express enthusiasm or to convey a point. Well, that’s fine. After all, if it helps you elaborate upon what you’re saying, and it’s also a part of who you actually are, then don’t mess with a good thing. But be careful. Mark Bowden, author of the book Winning Body Language, suggests keeping your hands and arms in the “truth plane.” Ideally, this is an area that fans out 180 degrees from your navel, stopping below the collarbone. Keeping gestures within this place keeps your hands away from your face, as noted earlier, and shows that you are calm, centered, and controlled. So, by all means use your hands, but don’t go mad.
9. Don’t Be a Nodding Dog
People often believe that nodding in agreement at everything the interviewer says will stand them in good stead. That’s not actually the case. While it’s all well and good to nod in agreement when you do genuinely agree with something, you need to avoid the “nodding dog syndrome.” Nodding in agreement with everything, regardless of the message, makes you look somewhat sycophantic, perhaps even spineless. Even worse, if you’re not paying attention and then get asked a question related to the issue you were nodding about, you could look like a real idiot. “Why on earth were you agreeing with something that you had no idea about?” Keep the nodding under control. Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, shaking your head should be kept to a bare minimum. No one wants to be sat opposite someone so disagreeable, and it’s also a sign of trying to dominate others.
10. Don’t Keep Your Distance or Get in Their Faces
In most interviews, you’ll be sat on one side of a desk with the interviewer sat on the other. This is standard practice, but with body language you can change this dynamic with both good and bad outcomes. For a start, if you purposefully shift your chair away from the desk, perhaps crossing your legs, then you're putting more distance between you and your potential employer. This is a suggestion of distrust or nervousness. Similarly, if you bring the chair up too close to the desk and start leaning over, you are being intimidating and also showing that you have something to hide. So stay at a comfortable distance from the desk, showing enough of your upper body to indicate that you have nothing to hide. If there’s no desk, follow the same rules. Don’t get so close that your breath is in their face, but don’t back off so far that you’re clearly trying to avoid them.
Of course, as with all lists, remember not to be so focused on this advice that you forget the main reason you’re in the room. Practice before the interview; don’t jot this down on the palm of your hand and become a body language robot. Be relaxed, be natural, and for the most part, be yourself.