How to Take Your Career in Your Hands

You’re confident that you’re ready for your upcoming interview. You’ve researched the company and the hiring manager. You’ve brainstormed every question you can think of and developed confident, relevant answers. Now you’re just trying to come up with something that will give you a competitive edge. Have you thought about body language? The non-verbal signals you give off in an interview can have just as much of an impact as your answers. Here’s what you need to know.

Do talk with your hands

OK…so you don’t want to look like you’re waving an aircraft in for landing. But calm, deliberate hand gestures can actually help you speak better. Carol Kinsey Goman, in an article for Forbes, explained how studies have shown that Broca’s area, a part of the brain that influences speech, shows greater activity when the speaker is also gesturing. In other words, talking with your hands is like a vitamin for the part of your brain that you’ll be relying on in your interview.

Do realize that you’re being watched…but don’t act like you know it

It’s common knowledge that receptionists are often a hidden part of the hiring process. Hiring managers and recruiters ask for their impression, and rude treatment of a receptionist will almost certainly cost you the job. But that receptionist will probably be watching you, too, and you want to project a calm, confident manner while you’re waiting. Force yourself to sit still, fold your hands in your lap, and sit with head up and shoulders straight. Sitting calmly like this also helps you avoid startling and fumbling for all of your possessions when you’re called back for the interview.

Don’t shake hands like you have something to prove

Handshakes are extremely important in most western cultures. People assume a weak handshake signals a weak personality. But be careful not to go too far in the other direction, either. A bone-crushing handshake, aside from annoying the person on the receiving end, signals that you have something to prove. It’s like I was taught growing up in the southern U.S. – if you have to tell people you’re a lady, you’re not. Don’t begin an interview by trying to tell everyone through your handshake how tough you are.

Don’t keep your hands to yourself

No, that doesn’t mean you should walk into the meeting room and give your interviewer a big smooch (in fact, I strongly advise against that). I’m talking about those fidgeting gestures that broadcast anxiety: smoothing your hair, adjusting your clothes, scratching, picking at your nails, etc. Any of those things can sound the alarm that you’re full of nervous energy. When you’re not speaking (because you’ll be using gestures when you speak, right?) keep your hands folded in your lap.

Do slow your speed and lower your pitch

People interpret rapid-fire speech as signaling one of two things: either you’re nervous or you’re very dominant, and neither one is an image you want to project in an interview. Pitch is similar. If your voice tends to get high and squeaky when you’re nervous, make a conscious effort to lower the pitch of your voice.

Do wrap things up with poise and confidence

You would probably never ask, “Well, how did I do?” at the end of an interview. But if you’re mentally asking yourself that question, your uncertainty can cause you to do things like drop your pen, fumble with your purse, or even trip getting up. At the close of the interview, your focus should be on leaving a good lasting impression. Stand smoothly, avoid fiddling with your clothes, and give a firm handshake. When it’s time, stride confidently to the door. And, since you never know who’s watching, keep the image intact until you leave the premises. Jumping up and down in the parking lot or banging your head on the hood of your car could undo everything you just accomplished.

The key to acing body language in an interview is balance. You want to banish anything that makes you look nervous, but you don’t want to go so far in the other direction that you come across as cocky. Focus on projecting the 3 Cs: confidence, competence, and calm.


Image: flickr via Sonny Abesamis, 2014

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