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Five Body Language Mistakes You’re Making In Interviews

You should smile, but not too much.

Five Body Language Mistakes You’re Making In Interviews
[Photo: Fernando Brasil via Unsplash]

You may have researched common interview questions and rehearsed answers, but could your body be undermining your confidence–and your chance at getting a job offer? Body language can have more of an impact on your success than anything you say. A classic study from UCLA says up to 55% of our communication is nonverbal, and that’s especially challenging when you’re in a situation where you’re likely nervous.

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“When we feel threatened, our natural instinct is to cover up and protect ourselves,” says Andy Mangum, speech communications faculty member at Brookhaven College in Dallas. “These nonverbal defenses suggest that we lack confidence. What a person conveys is not always what a person feels. Defensiveness is in the eye of the beholder. So, the key is to look natural and confident.”

CareerBuilder surveyed hiring managers to identify the biggest body language mistakes they see in job seekers during an interview. Here’s a list of five to watch:

1. Eye Contact

Two thirds of hiring managers surveyed said poor eye contact could cost you the job in an interview. Failure to look someone in the eyes sends the signal that the candidate lacks confidence, says Crystal Barnett, senior human resource specialist at HR service provider Insperity.

In a one-on-one interview, this is an easy problem to fix; maintain eye contact as you listen to your interviewer. But what if you’re in a group interview? “It is best to initially maintain eye contact with the person who asked the question,” says Barnett. “In the course of responding, the candidate should also look at other interviewers to read their nonverbal cues and keep them engaged.”

2. Smiling

Nearly 40% of hiring managers say that failing to smile is a red flag for them during an interview.

“Fake it till you make it is a definite no-no when it comes to smiling,” says Charlotte Westerhaus-Renfrow, clinical assistant professor of management and business law at Indiana University, Kelley School of Business. “Fake, insincere smiling is less favorable no matter the amount of eye contact.”

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Westerhaus-Renfrow suggests combining eye contact with a genuine smile to make a good impression, and it comes with a bonus: “Smiling during the interview reduces stress by decreasing the stress-induced hormones,” she says.

3. Fidgeting

Candidates who move around too much in their seats is distracting for 32% of hiring managers, according to the survey. Nervousness is normal during an interview, and this can sometimes result in fidgeting, so Michael Plummer, CEO of the direct-mail marketing firm Our Town America, looks for more body language clues when he interviews candidates.

“I have seen some folks so nervous that it overshadows the rest of their body language,” he says. “Body language is only relevant within the context of the specific interview. I do notice if someone is noticeably shifty and things don’t seem to be adding up. In those cases, I simply follow up further on references.”

If you’re a fidgeter, help yourself sit still by putting your feet flat on the floor and your hands in your lap.

Video: Handshakes That Will Blow Your Job Interview

4. Crossing Your Arms

Nearly a third of hiring managers say crossing your arms during an interview sends a bad signal, but Michael Landers, author of Culture Crossing: Discover The Key To Making Successful Connections In The New Global Era, says this could be a misleading.

People often believe crossed arms sends the signal that the person is bored, disengaged, or blocked, he says. “However, when I ask people why they may sit like this, the great majority of them say it is because they may be cold or that it’s just a comfortable way to sit or stand,” he says. “This sets the stage for people to easily write off a potentially excellent candidate during an interview or discount a colleague or client simply based on a misinterpretation of their body language.”

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Job candidates should pay attention to how they hold their arms, whenever possible. But hiring managers shouldn’t always assume crossed arms is a bad signal.

5. Posture

For 31% of hiring managers, bad posture can cost the candidate a job offer. Mark Bollman, president of the upholstery repair franchise Creative Colors International, says it’s his biggest red flag when he interviews potential employees.

“That suggests to me they are too comfortable or complacent and possibly lazy or not paying attention,” he says. “Those are not the kind of people who would succeed in our business. We love folks who sit upright in their chair and keep consistent eye contact. That shows us they are eager, ready to learn, and excited about the opportunity.”

Good posture coupled with fluidity is the key, says Dawn Rauhe, head of sourcing in the Americas for Alexander Mann Solutions, a talent acquisition firm. “Your posture, either sitting or standing, during an interview should be natural, not still or tense,” she says. “When you have a point to make that is significant, lean forward; this indicates you care and want to make a strong point. After all, the best candidates can engage on all levels, including through their body language.”

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