Understanding the Psychology of Body Language for your Next Interview

We know how stressful job interviews can be. 

When you’re going for a position that requires you to prove relevant skills and experience in a limited time slot, to convince the interviewer that you’re the person for the job, it’s enough to make your palms sweat.

And, no matter how much preparation you’ve done (researching the company, aligning your experience with the role and brushing up on industry trends), there’s something else to bear in mind; body language and eye contact.

To help you avoid any faux-pas, we’ve put together these interview tips designed to help you master the social psychology behind nonverbal communication. Remember that you’re already in a great position. You’ve managed to find a job that could accelerate your career and you’ve impressed the hiring manager enough to actually land an interview.

The job interview is the final challenge in the process. Understanding body language and eye contact and how they influence people socially could have a bigger effect on the outcome than you think.

Dynamic Search Solutions has done the research for you. We’ve taken a look at old-school interview tips to see where they stem from and whether there’s any science behind them. Is your recruiter just telling you to sit up straight for the sake of it – or because it genuinely matters? Read on to be sure your nonverbal signals are sending all the right messages, to help you nail your next interview.

Darwin & behavioural psychology: where does it all come from?

darwin-social-psychology-animals

darwin-social-psychology-animals

Understanding body language is so important that there’s an entire day dedicated to it. The first Friday of every October is the official #NationalBodyLanguageDay according to the National Day Calendar.

But when did the study of nonverbal communication begin – and why is it still relevant today?

In his social psychology studies, Charles Darwin compiled his 1872 publication “The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals” where he examined how both humans and animals use body language and facial expressions as a means of communication.

It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the major study of body language in communication (known as kinesics) really took off in areas such as social science, anthropology and even business. 

Darwin found that we’re similar to animals in that there are shared inborn behaviours that reveal our internal emotional state – even without the need for words.

Just because we’ve since developed the art of spoken language, this doesn’t mean nonverbal communication becomes redundant. Things like body language, good eye contact and facial expressions still play an integral role in our conversations and it’s important we especially consider them in interactions like job interviews.

Interview tips: the importance of effective body language

It could be argued that an interviewer can learn more about you from your nonverbal cues than the way you answer a question. While some of the following interview tips might seem obvious, it’s important to bear them in mind throughout your meeting to convey the best possible impression of yourself.

1. Monitor your posture

Think about your posture before you even walk into the interview room. Keeping your back straight and your chin parallel to the ground could offer an instant sense of self-confidence; studies have shown that good posture and “power poses” lead to increased testosterone, which is associated with social dominance. (Plus, slouching radiates boredom and shyness so straighten up, just in case a receptionist or your interviewer’s co-worker spots you prior to your interview.)

2. The handshake

The significance of the handshake is debated in the world of recruitment and while some employers couldn’t care less about how you shake their hand, for others it’s a deal-breaker. Just in case the hiring manager you meet falls in the latter group, it’s best to be prepared.

You already know the drill; don’t break their knuckles but don’t allow your hand to feel like a limp salmon either. But why does it matter? Your handshake conveys a non-verbal message about your confidence in your own abilities, your negotiating style and your personality. 

3. Your sitting style

We’ve all sat across from an interviewer and panicked that we were sitting…wrongly. As silly as it might seem, there is a right and a wrong way to sit and you could unknowingly be passing off negative cues, affecting your chances of securing the role.

What you should be doing:

  • Keep your back straight throughout the interview (remember what we said about power poses?)
  • Lean forward slightly to indicate you’re interested in what the other person is saying
  • Use your hands if this comes naturally to you in conversation; keeping them locked in your lap might just look awkward

What you should avoid:

  • Leaning back. Even if the nature of the interview feels casual, leaning into a slump indicates disinterest and complacency 
  • Crossing your arms. This creates a barrier and suggests you feel vulnerable or insecure (wait until after the interview if you really need to give yourself a hug)
  • Crossing your legs. For most of us, crossing our legs is a natural seating position. However, when the bottom leg grows dead and you have to switch them up, you look like you’re fidgeting

4. Maintain eye contact

It might not be something you’re used to, but maintaining eye contact matters.

As humans, eye contact is one of our most common forms of verbal communication and it’s important not to underestimate how powerful it can be. It can show a potential employer that you’re honest, confident, focused and have good interpersonal skills.

Strike the right balance to avoid seeming too intense, and try not to change the way you use eye contact suddenly. Body language expert Patti Wood says:

 “If you’ve been making great eye contact the whole interview and suddenly start blinking rapidly — more than 70 blinks per minute — when asked a question, this can indicate stress and a desire to avoid the truth.” 

If you divert your focus every time you’re asked a question, social psychology has taught us that this could suggest someone is about to tell a lie or wants to avoid the question. While this may be unfair, keep your eye contact smooth to ensure this common perception doesn’t put you at a disadvantage. 

5.Think about your micro-expressions

Facial expressions are getting their moment in the spotlight thanks to TV shows such as Lie to me. The term “micro-expressions” comes from “micromontery expressions”, which was coined in 1966 by researchers Haggard and Isaacs. They studied videos of couples in therapy and noticed these split-second expressions that would flash across their faces.

They found that our faces can reveal our emotions even if we actively try to conceal them. There are certain facial expressions of emotion to avoid in job interviews when we want to give the right impression. Our face can give away undesirable states such as nervousness, disagreement, tension or disdain; practise answering mock interview questions in a mirror to be sure yours doesn’t radiate any telltale signs.

So…does it really matter?

We know that, as recruiters, we tend to rant on about interview tips to put our candidates in the best possible position. We also know that some tips might feel outdated (who still cares about handshakes and posture?!) 

From our digging, we’ve found that these things do still matter. Even if the interviewer only subconsciously picks up on your nonverbal cues, it makes a difference to their overall impression of you, because that’s just how we interact as humans. Next time you feel yourself slouching or avoiding eye contact, think about the message you might be sending.

Get more careers advice from Dynamic

Feeling a little bit more confident about the most effective body language in a job interview? It’s a great start; but there’s more to landing your ideal job than understanding the psychology behind nonverbal communication.

From sourcing the best roles to sending an irresistible application and receiving a job offer, Dynamic Search Solutions is your go-to place for careers advice and interview tips. To make sure you never miss a post, sign up to our blog. (We guarantee quality, relevant advice – never spam or pushy sales emails.)

 

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