Body language job interview tips

By Robert Half on 15th March 2018

You might be giving the right interview responses, but it’s your body language that tells the real story. The tilt of your head, curve of your shoulders, crossed legs or crossed arms are saying a lot more about your level of competence, confidence and cultural fit than you may realise.

If you’re on a quest to find a job with purpose, learn how to use body language in a job interview and discover the multitude of ways that your posture and gestures can help your success.

Job interview body language mistakes

It’s helpful to understand some of the more common job interview body language mistakes before you start learning how to come across well. Here are some things to avoid when sitting down to chat with a potential employer:

1. Not shaking hands

Failing to shake hands during your initial meeting says a lot about you to a potential employer. It may seem a little stuffy and old-fashioned, but this gesture is a classic mark of respect that gives a good first impression.

2. Looking down at the table

When you’re answering a question or listening to someone speak, try not to allow your gaze to drift down to the table. Lowering your eye line causes your head to bow and obscures the view of your face, which can give the impression that you aren’t committed to the answer and aren’t listening to the question.

3. Fiddling with your hands or jiggling your leg

Little body language tics like pen fiddling, nail biting and leg jiggling are all red flags to a hiring manager. Body language experts agree that these are the traits of an individual who cannot handle difficult tasks. It can also be misinterpreted as anxiety or apprehension by your interviewer.

4. Crossing your arms

Psychology experts agree that arm-folding is not negative body language—it’s often what we do when we’re trying to think or when we’d subconsciously like to give yourselves a hug. Unfortunately, in an interview setting, it is too easily misinterpreted as being defensive or aggressive.

5. Excessive pointing or head nodding 

Body language that uses excessive pointing gestures can make a person appear arrogant and confrontational. It’s an authoritative gesture (often used by teachers or parents) that’s generally considered impolite—not okay for a job interview! 

Too much of a good thing can backfire. Head nodding shows that you understand and are listening to a speaker, but doing it too much undermines how well you’re listening and gives the appearance of incompetence.

Good body language to use in an interview

Now that you know what to avoid, here are some positive and reputation-boosting body language tips for an interview.

1. Make eye contact with the speaker

When you make eye contact with a person, you’re forging a connection with them. This is good in itself, but carries the added bonus of showing that you’re listening to the person speaking—an important factor in turning an interview into a job offer. 

2. Mirror their gestures or posture

Body language mirroring is a classic tactic which is often used to establish an instant bond with someone. Much like our in-built need to mirror the facial expressions of those we’re talking to (like smiling or yawning), copying the posture and gestures of your interviewer can help to show them, on a subconscious level, that you share the same views.

3. Tilt your head

A subtle head tilt in body language is an excellent way to show someone that you’re interested in what they have to say and that you like it. It is a gesture which psychologists believe also shows that you are exposing vulnerability to the speaker by revealing your neck.

4. Turn your palms upwards when you’re speaking or gesturing

Your hand gestures can reveal a lot about you. Psychologist Dr Susan Weinschenk says that those who hide their hands are often thought to be ‘sneaky’. People who gesture with their palms up are showing that they are both honest and are certain about what they’re saying—both helpful for a job interview. 

Upload your CV to the Robert Half team today and let us help you make your next career move. If you’d like more advice on how to succeed in a job interview, you can get additional career advice here.

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