According to eminent psychologist Albert Mehrabian, in cases where the feelings and attitudes that we express verbally don’t match up with the nonverbal messages that we give out during the course of face-to-face interactions, it is the tone of our voices and our nonverbal behaviors which others will believe, rather than our actual words. In fact, in this type of situation, our words only contribute 7% in terms of our credibility, with tone of voice accounting for 38% and body language for 55%.
In an interview situation where the interviewer doesn’t know you from Adam, clearly what this means is that body language has immense potential to trip you up inadvertently, and yes, before you ask, body language is something that interviewers pay careful attention to.
From the very first second that an interviewer lays eyes on you, he or she will be forming an impression of you. Before you have even taken your place in the interview hot seat, not only will your mode of dress have come under close scrutiny, but your overall demeanor, your gait, your facial expression and your handshake will also have given off their own vital signals.
The interviewee who slouches into the room with a bored expression on his or her face only to offer up a sloppy handshake, for example, will likely have sent a message to say, “I really can’t be bothered with any of this and I don’t really care whether I get the job.” The one who marches into the room and crushes the interviewer’s hand in a vice-like grip, meanwhile, could either be perceived as overly-aggressive or arrogant, while the one who walks in confidently with a pleasant smile on his or her face and gives a firm handshake is likely to be seen as respectful and confident. Even without a single word being exchanged, these nonverbal clues will help to form the basis of the interviewer’s all-important first impression.
The ways that we express ourselves in a nonverbal sense are, of course, many and varied. Our posture, body movements, gait, facial expressions, eye movements and focus, and the ways that we touch ourselves and the objects around us all say something about who we are and how we are feeling at any given moment in time. In addition, the physical distance that we put between ourselves and others and even our breathing give out valuable clues which others pick up on, even if just at a subconscious level. Fidgeting, for example, can often indicate nervousness, although tapping the feet and drumming the fingers, is also a sign of boredom. Failing to look people directly in the eyes when speaking to them, on the other hand, can demonstrate that an individual is painfully shy, but could also mean that they are being economical with the truth. Crossing the arms across the chest, meanwhile, often indicates that a person is creating a barrier between him or herself and others, but in some situations it can also demonstrate defensiveness or opposition.
Next time you are preparing for a job interview and practicing your interview technique with a trusted friend or family member, try videotaping yourself so that you can play your performance back and take note of what your body language might be saying. Also, ask your interview partner to pay special attention to your nonverbal messages and behavior so that he or she can share any negative signals that you might be unaware of sending out. While it’s important not to get so hung up on body language that you can’t focus on how you respond verbally to your interviewer, becoming more aware of your behavioral clues will, to some degree at least, help you to keep them in check.