14 - Body Language - Twelve techniques to guarantee a strong interview performance

Interview skills and communication skills are not just about speech techniques and structures. You may have come across studies or statistics which state that up to 60% of the impression that you make is through your body language. Whatever the reality behind this statement, it is undoubtable that the way you dress and behave at an interview will strongly influence the person who is looking at you, even if it is subconscious.

To make a strong impression, there are a number of rules regarding correct body language that you need to reflect upon and adopt:

  1. Choose a good position within the room
    At an interview, you will normally be directed to a specific seat (i.e. you will have no choice). However, interviews can often be conducted in oversized environments (e.g. a meeting room with a table for 8 when there are only 3 of you). Make sure you choose a seat which enables you to see everyone involved without having to rotate your head exaggeratedly. In most cases, it may be best to hover around to see which chairs the interviewers are aiming for before making your selection.

    If there is a window, choose a chair that faces it so that your face is lit from the front, unless there is good lighting all-round. If you turn your back to the window, the interviewers may see you in sepia!

  2. Maintain a good posture
    If you are being interviewed at a table, make sure that you are not too close to the table. As a rule of thumb, your body language should be such that if you let your arms fall loosely on the table in front of you, they should fall with your elbows slightly outside of the table. If you elbows are actually on the table then you are too close. If your elbows are more than a few inches away (or you have to lean forward a lot to put your hands on the table) then you are too far away. For most people, the ideal distance between chest and table is about 4 inches.

    Plant both feet onto the ground so that you remain stable; and put your hands on the table (people who place their hands below the table come across as having something to hide). Keep yourself upright, with a slight slant forward and relax your shoulders. If there is no table (or only a low table) then simply rest your hands on your lap.

  3. Don't be afraid to 'own the space'
    Just because you are under observation, it does not mean that you should recoil in a corner. It is okay to stand or sit with your legs slightly apart, and in fact, it is a sign of confident body language.

  4. Limit your hand and arm movement
    It is perfectly okay in your body language to move your arms and hands around, and if that is the way that you normally behave then don't try to become someone else. Your personality and enthusiasm are as important as everything else. However make sure that such movements do not become distracting and do not take the focus away from your face. To achieve this, make sure that your movements are limited and never higher than your chest, and not under the table. If there is no table, you can let your hands go as far down as your lap.

    If your hands go outside towards the left or right, your interviewers will follow them and may stop concentrating on you. If your hands go over chest level, you will most likely obscure your lips or eyes.

    If you have a tendency to fidget in a very distracting manner, intertwine your fingers and rest your hands on the table.

  5. Smile
    A nervous smile is better than no smile at all - no one wants to employ a grumpy person that looks miserable all of the time! Good interviewers will understand that you may be nervous and will make attempts to put you at ease. Make sure that you reward their efforts with an easy smile but don't overdo it - it is simply a reasonable attempt to engage with them.

    Smile lightly also when you are being introduced to other people in the interview room. With this body language you can build a good rapport.

    It is also perfectly acceptable to laugh if the situation warrants it (but avoid making jokes just for the sake of introducing a laugh into the conversation. You'll probably end up being the only one laughing which could be embarrassing!)

  6. Maintain eye contact
    If you do not make eye contact, you will come across as evasive and insecure which is poor body language. If you stare at people too much, you will make them insecure. There are two situations here: either you are being interviewed by just one person, in which case you will have no choice but to look at them all the time; or you are being interviewed by more than one person. If this case, then look mostly at the person who is asking you the question, and occasionally glance aside to involve the others (they will be grateful that you are trying to involve them into the conversation even if they have not asked that particular question).

  7. Beware of the props
    If you have a pen with you, avoid fiddling with it as it may end up flying in the wrong direction! Similarly, if they offer you a drink (tea, coffee, water, etc), make sure that you can cope with it and that you won't need to go to the toilet or start crossing your legs half-way through the interview. Other than the fact that it may end up down your shirt or on your lap, the movement of the water in a glass that you have just picked up will reveal just how nervous you are.

  8. Mirror the interviewer's behaviour
    Mirroring (i.e. acting similarly) to someone is an indication that there is a connection through body language. It should happen normally but you may be able to influence it too, if only to give the interviewer the feeling that you are getting on well. For example, if the interviewer is sitting back then you may want to sit back a little too; if he leans forward, you may lean forward too. Be careful not to overdo it though and do not mirror instantly, otherwise it will look like some kind of Laurel and Hardy sketch!

  9. Get the handshake right
    Shake hands firmly - practice doing so if you are not sure what your handshake is like. If you shake someone's hand too firmly it can imply arrogance and if you deliver a weak handshake, it can suggest weakness, both of which are known to be a complete turn-off for recruiters. Maintain eye contact whilst shaking the person's hand and saying "hello".

  10. Show an appropriate amount of enthusiasm
    Whilst it is essential to show enthusiasm, do be careful of over-doing it so that you still come across as behaving naturally. By not showing enough enthusiasm, you could appear disinterested even though it could be nerves and shyness that make you appear that way - ultimately, you won't be doing yourself any justice if you don't show enthusiasm about the role and the organisation. Enthusiasm, motivation and confidence are fairly easy to get right when well-prepared, all of which are traits which are guaranteed to impress an interviewer.

  11. Adopt an appropriate tone of voice and pace
    If you are feeling confident and enthusiastic about the job, this will be reflected in the way you speak. Nerves, stress and pressure will have a negative impact, while confidence, enthusiasm and energy will come across positively.

    Interview nerves affect people in different ways. Some people speak very softly or too fast, others become hesitant and leave long gaps between words. During the interview, try to imagine that you talking to someone you know fairly well, and speak in a relaxed and easy manner. If you need to pause to think about what you want to say next, it is fine to do so (one interview technique is to accept the offer of a drink before the interview which you can take a sip of whilst pausing to think about what to say next without making it too obvious! As mentioned above, you would need to weigh this up against the possibility of spills and a shaky hand!) It is preferable to take a pause than to use "ums" and "ers" as long as the pauses are not excessively long, in which case an interviewer may not realise when you have finished speaking.

    Do also bear in mind that along with the positive image that you will give by smiling appropriately during the interview, this will also come across in your tone of voice further enhancing how you can appear confident and relaxed.

  12. And relax…
    You can't spend all of your energy focusing on body language so once you have consciously tried to embed the key points, try to put it out of your mind. There is no point displaying positive body language if your answers are terrible! Bearing in mind that body language is a reflection of your level of confidence, it is important that you build your confidence up first through good preparation and then go to the interview relaxed. You will be surprised of how much of the above you can do naturally.


Below are a number of negative traits and how your body language can give them away:

  1. Defensiveness: crossing your arms
  2. Disinterested/Boredom: tapping feet, playing with your pen, looking down, slouching, rubbing the back of your head or neck
  3. Nervousness: fidgeting, twiddling thumbs, playing with your hair
  4. Arrogance/overconfidence: brisk and erect walk, hands clasped behind head
  5. Aggression: Postures such as hands on hips and pointing or wagging your index finger
  6. Doubt: rubbing eyes or nose
  7. Too informal: Slouching in your chair and not sitting upright