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Body Language

Updated 08/06/2016

Interview Spoken versus Unspoken Messages

Often an Interview is perceived as two people talking to each other to gain information.  A skilled interviewer can "read" your verbal responses by observing your body language to gain additional insight on you and your answers.  So often we send these unspoken messages and undermine our intended spoken message, sometimes intentionally, others by simple interview mistakes that can be fixed.  (Click on image to enlarge posted).

Double click the image to the right to enlarge it and see the various points for practice prior to the interview.

Body Language for Interviews essentially consists of the following areas and points:

  1. Initial contacts always form initial impressions of a person.  Work to make a strong impression when you meet each person:
    a)  Did you provide direct eye contact with each person?
    b)  Do you have a clear understandable voice?
    c)  Was your voice sounding inviting and sincere?
    d)  Was your handshake a good firm handshake but not bone crushing?
         A woman's "finger clasp" is not good.  Use your full hand.
    e)  What did you say when meeting them?
    f)  Did you convey your appreciation to meet them and this opportunity?
  1. Where did you walk in relationship to them?  Leading, Trailing or beside?
    Leading shows taking charge and opens the opportunity to show you are clueless where you are leading people to.  Training suggests you are subordinate to them in this discussion.  You want to be beside them as an equal in this meeting.  It shows leadership without overdoing it and reflects respect by staying with them as you "walk and talk".  It is important that you project a good clear voice with confidence.  
  1. It is common to find candidates nervous and speak quickly or sometimes in an unexpected voice tone.  If you lower the tone of your voice slightly it adds meaning and importance to your words.  The tone and speed of your speaking is something you can practice at home using a recording device to see how you are improving.

  2. a)  Eye contact is very important.  
         Looking people directly in the eye helps to establish trust and good
         interviews can tell if you are lying by looking into your eyes.  Avoid too
         much direct eye contact.  Staring down the interview suggests you are
         aggressive or are nto up to par with social cues.  It can also leave the
         interviewer with a negative impression of you.

    b)  Do not look away from your audience in mid-sentence.
         Hold eye contact as much as possible.  This is more challenging with
         multiple interviewers.  If there are multiple interviewers, look into their
         eyes as you talk to build confidence and thus potentially a better
         evaluation when you are done.

    c)  Blinking is normal but excessive blinking is not.
    This suggests dishonesty or nerves while no to minimal blinking makes
         you look like a zombie.

    d)  Shifting your eyes, looking at the ceiling or floor is not good.
         If you look in a different direction, turn your head so all in the room can

    e)  Constant up and down motion of your eyes or head is not good.
         They are not wanting a "bobblehead" on the team.

    f)   Position yourself with your shoulders slightly back and dropped.
         Sitting up straight is always good.  This gives a great presence and shows
         confidence with experience.  Leaning back suggests lazy or arrogant. 
         leaning forward may be overly-agressive.  Lean slightly forward to show
         engagement in the conversation and interest in what they have to say.

    Hand gestures are a bonus done correctly.   Nervous people wring or hide
         their hands or suggest you are distrustful.  Keep your hands in the open
         and use them for gesturing while talking about positives to show interest
         and passion.

     Smile!  A small smile during an interview that does not appear forced is
         a winner.  Not smiling can signal many negatives on your candidacy.

    Good eye contact, posture, a small smile and a good clear voice make strong first impressions.

  3. The first 15 seconds can influence the total interview outcome.  Therefore:
    -  be slightly early so you can check your hair, cloths, teeth, etc.
    -  turn the cell phone off - you don't any distractions in the interview
    -  don't take over the interview from the start; it's their show
    -  don't expect them to help you out ...  if you need clarification, ask for it
    -  don't look around the room like you're lost, confused, or sightseeing
    -  don't come inappropriately dressed - you're shooting to win this position
    -  don't announce you are using a different resume; use the same you sent
    -  ask if they have your resume; if not provide them clean crisp copies
    -  don't put any bags, packages, etc. on the table ... it goes on the floor
    -  don't put your hands in your pockets when walking or talking
    -  don't sit in a defensive posture with your arms folded
    -  don't discuss benefits unless they bring up the topic; that all comes later
    -  don't wear inappropriate, excessive, or distraction jewelry
    -  don't wear anything but business professional attire
    -  don't smoke, drink anything but water prior to the interview
    -  don't wear cologne or perfume as it may bring bad memories to mind
    -  don't wear earbuds or headphones in the waiting or interview areas
    -  avoid casual conversations prior to your interview; keep it all professional
    -  don't present a weak or partial handshake
    -  don't shake your leg(s) before or during the interview
    -  keep a good smile going during your meeting; you're happy to be there!
    -  look, act and sound professional at all times with all people you encounter

    Some interviewers may engage in casual conversation after the interview for the purpose of seeking something you are working to avoid.  As long as you are on their property, the interview should be considered as "in progress".
From the Security Guard all the way back to the Security Guard, these people may be providing feedback on you for courtesy, following directions, sitting in the right place, parking in the designated area, following speed limits, etc.


Albert Mehrabian at UCLA found that the total impact of a message is based ONLY 7% ON THE WORDS USED.

Much more important are:
- facial expressions and other forms of body language:  
55% of the total impact
- tone impact and tone of voice:                                     38% of the total impact
- words:                                                                            7% of the total impact

Emotions are highly infectious.  Yet the use of our body language is sending mixed signals when we speak.  Non-verbal signs don't always convey our intended message.

People will first often look for the negative; people will evaluate your state of mind by monitoring your body language.  The brain pays more attention to negative messages.  Think of it as a defensive action watching for signals to "stay away" or being in a "bad mood".  Next, consider the context - the circumstances behind the message.  Context can include location, relationships, time of day, past experiences and small things like lighting and room temperature.  Some people work to find meaning in non-verbal queues like yawning in the morning because you were up all night on a major project.  Share information that may create false clues.  In a gesture cluster you may send multiple signals that have little in common with each other.

Understand the "baseline behavior" of people: how to they respond to good or bad situations.  Cultural biases may come into play with emotion, touch and space.


  • 67% Failed to make eye contact
           Possible Cause:
           Message Sent:    Interviewer may see you as being dishonest, indifferent,
                                     insecure, nervous, passive

  • 39% failed to smile
           Possible Cause:

  • 33% played with something on the table
           Possible Cause:

  • 30% had bad posture
           Possible Cause:

  • 30% Fidgeted too much in their seats
           Possible Cause:
           Message Sent:      Interviewer may think you are apprehensive, bored,
                                       restless, uncomfortable

  • 29% Crossed their arms over their chests
           Possible Cause:
           Message Sent:     Interviewer may see you as angry, defensive, disagreeing,

  • 27% Played with their hair or touching their faces
           Possible Cause:

  • 21% Had a weak handshake
           Possible Cause: 

  • 11% Used too many hand gestures
           Possible Cause: 

  •   7% Had a handshake that was too strong
           Possible Cause:

  •        Bit their lip(s) during interview
           Possible Cause:
           Message Sent:    Interviewer may see you as being anxious, fearful, nervous

  •        Head scratching
           Possible Cause:
           Message Sent:    Interviewer may see you as bewildered, confused

  •        Flaring nostrils
           Possible Cause:
           Message Sent:    Interviewer may see you as angry, frustrated

  •        Narrowing eyes
           Possible Cause:
           Message Sent:    Interviewer may see you as angry, offended

  •        Raising eyebrows
           Possible Cause:
           Message Sent:    Interviewer may see you as disbelieving, surprised,

  •        Tapping feet
           Possible Cause:
           Message Sent:    Interviewer may see you as anxious, nervous

  •        Wringing hands
           Possible Cause:
           Message Sent:    Interview may see you as anxious, nervous, scared


         Recognizing what the question's Category is, helps you answer the question.

Work & Education:
-  What have you done and learned?
-  Why did you leave your last job?
-  What did you like most about your last job?
-  What did you least like about it?
-  What is your management style?

Skills & Comptency:
-  What can you do?
-  Describe a challenging work issue you had to face.
-  How do you handle pressure?
-  What is your most significant career accomplishment?

Personality, Values & Goals:
-  Who are you?
-  What makes you a good team member?
-  Where do you see yourself five years from now?
-  How have you grown in the last few years?

Behavorial & Situational:
-  Can you tell me a story?
-  Tell me about a time when you had to juggle priorities to meet a deadline?
-  If we were to hire you, what would you do in the first 60 days?

Job Match:
                   -  Are you a match?
                   -  Describe your ideal work environment.
                   -  What aspects of the job will you like least?
                   -  Why should we hire you for this position?
                   -  What do you expect your starting salary to be?

Practice may not always create perfection but it does help your performance if you take some very simple steps using items possibly already available to you now!

Get some interview questions from the Internet and have someone ask you those questions without you seeing them first.  Before you start, setup a cell phone with a video camera and microphone and record the mock interview.  Watch for all the items listed above to see how you do.

Practice several of these over a few days to build up your confidence and ability to give an interview with confidence.  Mistakes a part of the learning process so relax, in your safe environment.  These skills will serve you well beyond doing interviews!


TED Video:          Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are (21:02)

                                Body language, the Power is in the Palm of your Hands (14:29)

LinkedIn Video:   Free Into to How Body-Language Signals Are Perceived
Unless starting a 1 month free offer or paying for training, watch the free video 


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