The content of what you say in an interview is, of course, the most important part of the process — you’re showing off your skillset and qualifications, as well as helping the hiring manager determine whether you’ll fit in with the company culture. However, how you present yourself matters, too. Body language and nonverbal cues can tell a hiring manager or recruiter a lot about a job candidate — for better or worse.
Of course you’re nervous; the interviewer understands that and mild nonverbal indicators of your stress probably won’t make her dismiss you altogether as a potential hire. But some nonverbal mistakes can suggest other unsettling qualities about a person, such as a lack of confidence or disinterest in the company or position. To that end, here are seven common nonverbal mistakes made during job interviews that you should make an effort to avoid.
1. Improper eye contact.
Making good eye contact is essential for forming a connection with any person. In an interview, it will allow your interviewer to gauge your confidence; if your head is down and you’re not meeting her eyes, she may be concerned about a lack of self-esteem and too many nerves. Eye contact is also important for social interactions, so it serves as a tool to evaluate your personality, too.
At the same time, you should avoid staring at the interviewer. This will make you seem overbearing, socially awkward and just plain odd. Make eye contact while the interviewer is speaking (and while you are, too), but look away on occasion to keep it from getting intense. You might, for example, look up when you’re thinking or pondering a question.
2. Bad handshake.
You’ve probably heard about the importance of a strong handshake. A limp, weakness handshake suggests low self-esteem. At the same time, avoid overcompensating by gripping too hard and holding on too long. This could indicate that you’re trying too hard, evidenced by the strength of your overbearing handshake, or might be arrogant or overzealous. Instead, strike a balance: a firm grip — one where you’re not trying to break the other person’s hand — is ideal. Keep it relatively brief while avoiding being dismissive: one shake should be enough.
3. Touching your face or hair.
If you have a habit of rubbing your jaw or nose or playing with your hair, try to rein it in when you’re interviewing. It’s probably just a nervous habit or even something you’re prone to doing even when you’re not in an anxiety-provoking situation, but it can be annoying and distracting for the interviewer to have to watch. It could also make you appear bored and disinterested in what she’s saying. If this is something that’s become ingrained in your behavior, you’ll have to make a conscious effort not to do it in situations like this by practicing keeping your hands in your lap or on a desk in front of you.
4. Nervous hand gestures and tics.
Like touching your face and hair, hand gestures and fiddling with clothing or other items can be off-putting. Again, this is probably nerves or a habit, but you’ll need to keep it to a minimum in an interview. Common nervous tics include:
• Picking at or biting your fingernails
• Fiddling with jewelry
• Hand or leg twitching or shaking
• Tapping your foot
• Excessive “talking” with your hands
These and other nonverbal gestures can be annoying and distracting and, like many of the mistakes on this list, demonstrate anxiety and a lack of confidence. As with the face- and hair-touching, you’ll have to make a conscious effort to avoid doing this.
5. Poor posture.
Slouching in your chair suggests laziness, lack of interest and insecurity. Meanwhile, leaning far back in your seat can indicate that you’re almost too comfortable — and possibly arrogant. Poor posture also isn’t very professional. Instead, keep your back straight and sit upright in your seat. This is better for your back in the long run, anyway!
6. Crossing your arms.
When I was 21 and going through a difficult period in my life, I was in a bar feeling miserable and had my arms crossed in front of me. “Never cross your arms,” my friend told me. “It’s a very closed-off position.”
I’ve taken that advice to heart and try to avoid crossing my arms in any situation, and you should, too. In any context, it makes you appear aloof, unapproachable and unwelcoming. That’s not the signal you want to send to an interviewer. She’s not just evaluating your skills and experience, after all; she’s also considering whether you’ll fit in with the team and company culture, and nonverbal cues that suggest that you’re cold and distant will make her think twice about hiring you.
7. Odd facial expression.
Smile, smile, smile. You want to come off as friendly and approachable, as well as excited about the job opportunity. If you sit there with a frozen, aloof expression on your face, you’ll see unfriendly and disinterested. That doesn’t mean you should spend the entire interview grinning like a maniac; just keep the corners of your mouth turned up slightly when you’re talking and when you’re not, keeping the vibe and atmosphere pleasant and amiable.
Let’s face it: you’re not going to land a job solely based on your amazing nonverbal body language during an interview. However, you can put a hiring manager or recruiter off if you make too many mistakes in this arena. In other words, your nonverbal communication won’t make an interview, but it could break it.
If you know you’re prone to one or more of these habits in interviews or your daily life in general, you’ll need to make a conscious effort to keep them at bay. If you’re not sure if you make these mistakes frequently (but suspect you might), ask someone you trust. They might tell you about habits you’re not even aware of. If that’s the case, practice keeping them in check, asking friends and family members to let you know when you’re making this faux pas and finding alternatives.