What Is Your Body Saying During An Interview?

You might be saying all the right things. Your body might be betraying you.


Job interviews are stressful. What I know from personality behaviour is that when people are stressed, they start to show signs of it without being aware. As you prepare yourself for your next big job interview, here are some tips for not letting your body give you away and send the wrong signals to your potential employer.

In an article for Psychology Today, Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D., breaks down some of the dead giveaways of nerves, of white lying, and other body language signals into four areas: the head, torso, your legs and feet.

Of the head she says, “the parts of your face that reflect what psychologists call display rules play a vital role in letting others know exactly how you’re feeling and maybe even exactly what you’re thinking. The most important of these are the tiniest movements involving the muscles around your eyes and mouth, called “microexpressions.” One reason they are so important to understanding body language is that they can completely contradict the impression you’re trying to create by what you’re saying. You may want to hide the feelings of fear that you have when talking to someone you want to impress, but the little pulling back of the muscles around your mouth shows instead that you’re panicking on the inside (make a grimace now and you’ll know what I mean).”

The torso, she makes the point, contains your arms and hands. “I was once told,” she says, “by a very accomplished colleague that the best thing to do with your hands, while you’re sitting, is to gently hold them together in your lap. The folded hands keep you from over-gesticulating, another body language trap that can cause your feelings to spill out by the gallon. When you’re standing, you need to find a similarly neutral way of letting your hands rest comfortably either at your sides or on some other convenient resting place.”

Your legs can also give away signals you’d rather keep hidden. Closed legs and splayed legs both say different things, says Dr. Krauss Whitbourne, and “anxiety can translate very directly into an unconscious leg-shaking (or foot-tapping). People with jittery legs apparently burn off more calories, but there are better ways to work off those extra pounds, at least when you’re in public situations. Shaking your legs while sitting sends a giant message to everyone around you about your feelings of anxiety or irritation or both.”

“Your feet,” she says, “can get you into trouble with your body language all on their own. Tapping your toes is one way to show that you’re in a hurry and anxious to get moving. It’s a little way of signaling that you’re feeling time pressured.” As a seasoned interviewer, I can say that if you send signals you want to leave, it creates anxiety in others and makes you seem agitated, possibly impatient, and inattentive.

It’s a good idea to practice your interview before the interview with a friend if you can. They can help you become aware of these unconscious behaviours that could be sending the exact wrong signals you need in order to land that job. Or try videotaping yourself and you will see exactly how you are perceived and where you can make improvements. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to interviewing.

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