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Body Language
Nonverbal cues (Photo: Camerique Archive/Getty Images)

9 Nonverbal Cues to Help You Ace Your Next Job Interview

Sometimes it's not what you don’t say, but how you don’t say it. Unspoken signals can make all the difference in an interview. Here’s how to land a job without saying a word.

By anyone’s standards, interviewing for jobs in New York City is a cut-throat enterprise. Regardless of whether you’re looking to land an entry-level position or the corner office, in today’s economy there are often hundreds of viable candidates competing for the same position. Given how many people want to work in New York City, it’s a feat to even be asked in for an interview.

You’ve heard the familiar advice from friends, books and websites — do your research, prepare a list of questions, dress to impress and bring a copy of your resume. But what’s often lost on most interviewees is how much what you don’t say matters. The nonverbal signals you give off can make or break you in the eyes of an interviewer. Body-language expert Patti Wood, the author of SNAP: Making the Most of Body Language, First Impressions, and Charisma, notes that hiring decisions are often made within the first ten seconds. “We are able to read up to 10,000 nonverbal cues in less than a minute,” says Wood. “Many hiring decisions in interviews are based on reading those cues in an instinctual way, with the interviewer spending the rest of the interview looking for evidence to support her initial snap impression.”

So what can you do make sure the subliminal messages you’re sending are as polished as your shoes or resume? We consulted experts in body language, career counseling and human resources to come up with a list of nine easy nonverbal cues to drop into your next interview. Employ these surefire tips to give yourself the advantage — and the confidence — you need to land the job.


Ditch your stuff before shaking hands (Photo: iStockphoto)

Ditch your stuff before shaking hands (Photo: iStockphoto)

1. Ditch your stuff to feel (and appear) more powerful

This is particularly relevant for women, who tend to become overwhelmed with their clothing, handbags, accessories and shoes, according to Patti Wood. She offers the following anecdote: “I walked into a television studio with my coat, purse and notes in hand while my savvy fellow guest carried only his confidence. I fluttered like a bird, trying to arrange my stuff on a side table. When I got to the interview chair, I fluttered some more, arranging my heels, hair and jewelry. In the midst of all this moving about, I realized I would have looked—and felt—more confident if I’d left my purse and coat in the car, allowing me to calmly glide into my seat instead of fussing. Research bears this out. Women’s clothing, and our accessories like shoes and handbags, affects our power. We make sixteen to sixty distinct body language movements as we move toward a chair and sit down; men make three to fourteen.”

For both men and women, Wood recommends that whatever stuff you do bring, don’t follow your first instinct (to pick up your things) when a recruiter meets you in the lobby to go back to her office. Instead, focus on greeting her with a strong handshake and a good deal of enthusiasm before gathering your belongings. Not only does it make you appear excited about the position, it starts your “relationship” with your interviewer on a personal note, rather than a scattered grab for your bags and coat.


2. Lean forward, matching and mirroring your interviewer

“We like people who are like us,” Wood says, “and research shows that interviewers tend to hire people who are like them.” The best way of proving this is to match and mirror your interviewer, smiling while he smiles and leaning in one direction as he does the same. And appropriately learning forward during an interview makes you seem interested and signals that you’re listening. But don’t overdo it — Steve Levy, Managing Director for BlueWaterLabs, an analytics and technology consultancy in New York City, says one of his biggest pet peeves in an interview is a candidate who doesn’t respect his personal space. “Stay out of my bubble,” he says. The point isn’t to get into a recruiter’s face but to use nonverbal cues to show that you aren’t intimidated by questions. People tend to pull back when they’re afraid of a question or don’t like what’s being asked, Wood explains, but leaning in can show “you’re focused on the interviewer” and not worried about your own anxieties.

Lars Schmidt, founder of and Senior Director of Talent Acquisition and Innovation at National Public Radio, concurs. “Leaning in, nodding your head, reacting appropriately to comments (laughter, surprise, etc.) shows that you’re paying attention and interested,” Schmidt says. “If you act indifferent and/or have no reaction to what’s being said, the interviewer may think you’re checked out, not interested in the job, or dull.”


3. Sit “big and open”

According to Wood, when you’re afraid your body retracts and gets smaller. “It makes sense,” she says, “because if you’re scared of being attacked it’s smart to make yourself appear small or invisible.” Of course, that’s the last thing you want to do in a job interview. Women tend to perch on the edge of their seats, which implies insecurity. Men tend to slouch and lean on a chair’s backrest, which implies disinterest.

Marisa Ruiz, Senior Creative Recruiter for Leo Burnett, a Chicago-based ad agency with offices in NYC and all over the world, says the biggest mistake candidates in a creative industry can make is “thinking they can be casual in body language and demeanor because they’re interviewing for a position in a more casual work environment. Just because it’s okay to wear jeans at an ad agency, it’s not okay to lean back in your interview chair like a couch potato in front of the TV.” To counteract these tendencies, Wood suggests varying your sitting position, using up a lot of space, and placing your arms on armrests to look confident.  Be mindful to take up the same amount of space as the person interviewing you — but no more than that — to avoid upstaging them.


Make solid eye contact when your interviewer is speaking (Photo: iStockphoto)

Make solid eye contact when your interviewer is speaking (Photo: iStockphoto)

4. Make solid eye contact when your interviewer is speaking

When an interviewer is speaking, one of the most important things you can do is to maintain almost 100% eye contact. “Failure to make eye contact — or worse — staring out into space, looking down or not paying attention, makes people seem less confident and fearful of the interview,” says Amy Wunderlich, Talent & Community Engagement Specialist at WunderLand, a recruiting agency that places people in Chicago, NYC, NJ and San Francisco.

But it’s equally important to know when to break eye contact, which can be just as big of a nonverbal cue when you’re the speaker as it is when someone else is. “In typical conversation, you’re making eye contact about 60% of the time,” Wood says. “It’s normal to look away from time to time as you speak because it shows you are processing information in your brain.” If you don’t look away while answering questions, you not only run the risk of seeming a little bit creepy but may also come across as not thinking through your responses thoroughly enough.


5. Show your hands

You might be nervous, but don’t hide your hands under the table or in your pockets. Wood suggests keeping your hands open and in view on the table or the arms of the chair. Gesticulate normally — doing otherwise can be a distraction; Wunderlich notes that candidates who use excessive hand gestures or fidget with their hands run the risk of preventing recruiters from focusing on their qualifications and skills. “Your hands show your emotional state,” says Wood. “When you close your hand, the amount of tightness and the way the fingers curve show how you feel about the topic being discussed and the person you are with. In an interview, you want to be open, not closed.” So in addition to sitting big and open, keep your hands in full view, adding to the confidence and presence you have in the room.


6. Think of something that really motivates and excites you on the way to the interview so you can be in an enthusiastic mood when you arrive

Research says that when people are in an upbeat mood, their gestures change, their heads are held higher, their shoulders come up and back, and their stride is bouncier. Wood suggests “working on yourself “from the outside in” to change your mood and behavior by doing things that make you feel positive inside.” You can talk to a supportive friend, watch a funny YouTube video or listen to uplifting music in your car (or on your iPhone) on your way to your interview, she says.

To get an idea of the difference that enthusiasm can make in your appearance, try talking to yourself in a mirror and noting your facial expressions after doing something upbeat compared to a time you’re feeling tired. Wunderlich suggests all of her clients follow this suggestion before going on interviews. Many people don’t realize they aren’t smiling or that they’re giving off disinterested or unhappy facial expressions, she says. Doing something uplifting and then sitting in front of a mirror can be a great way to get a sense for what you look like when you’re happy so you can recreate it on the way to your interview.


Bring an iPad (Photo: iStockphoto)

Bring an iPad (Photo: iStockphoto)

7. Bring an iPad

Fidgeting with your technology in an interview is an obvious no-no — Schmidt says “candidates checking their smart phones or tablets definitely damage their chances” — but there’s an exception to the rule, “if they’re showing examples of their work,” says Schmidt. The key, according to Wood, is to make sure that “your technology (or lack of it) matches the company, the job, and the interviewer. It can be awkward if the interviewer does not have the same technology you have, and it might be easy for you to become distracted and glance at your gadgetry,” she says. “In the same way, if your interview is with a high-tech company or your interviewer is under thirty, bring your latest and greatest gadget to match her techno impression.” An iPad or other tablet is an excellent way to show that you’re on top of your game if you work in an industry that lends itself to such technology. You can bring digital samples of your work, evidence of past successes and demonstrations of your skill — and presenting it in multimedia format is often more memorable than using your words to do the same thing.


8. Keep both feet on the ground to feel more confident and centered, but feel free to move them (discreetly) if you feel stuck or anxious about how to answer a question

When people are nervous, they tend to either fidget or freeze. Wood offers a trick to help get past this and appear more confident and less anxious. “When you’re in the thick of the most difficult questions and want to achieve the highest levels of cognition, place both feet firmly on the ground,” she says. “This placement actually makes it easier to utilize both hemispheres of the brain — the rational and the creative-emotional. And if you feel yourself freeze, move your feet.”


9. Make sure your stuff is on the left, then say goodbye with as much confidence as when you said hello, no matter how you feel it went

As your interview comes to an end, make sure whatever you’ve brought with you is on the left side of your body, Wood advises, so you can easily shake with your right hand. “You may shake hands more than once — when you get up, at the door, and after talking for a bit longer while parting,” she says. “Make that seem like the most natural thing in the world, because every time you shake hands, you’re bonding.” This is especially important even if you think you didn’t do well in the interview, because you can improve the impression you made by leaving in a strong and confident manner. Staying poised until the very end shows a good deal of personal confidence.

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