Top 25 Body Language Essentials for Job Interviews

  • Posted by Steve Goldberg
  • |
  • June 15, 2010

“You had me at hello.” – the character Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger) to Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) in Jerry Maguire (1996).

As hiring managers, we want that feeling when we meet prospective candidates for the first time, and consistently throughout the forty five minutes or one hour set aside for the interview. As job candidates, you want to convey this experience.

Imagine that you are the hiring manager and you’ve reviewed a resume of what looks like a strong applicant for digital media job. The person graduated from a top school, has a solid work history, a track record of success, and has top-notch references. But at the initial interview with you, the candidate offers a dead-fish handshake, fidgets in their chair, keeps flipping their hair, doesn’t make sufficient eye contact with the you, and mumbles responses at times to important questions.

A bad first impression is difficult to overcome, no matter how solid the credentials. And, it is a double whammy if you are seeking a job in advertising sales. Your interview impression is always what a hiring manager looks to when they ask themselves “how will they be on sales calls?”

But do not fret. If you become aware of your body language habits and practice changing them, you can improve the impression you convey and greatly increase your chances that you’ll nail the interview, land the job, and take the next vital step in your career.

Below are Media Recruiting Group’s 25 body language essentials – 16 do’s and 9 don’ts:

Here is what to do when it comes to body language:

  1. Do mirror work and film yourself answering interview questions. Buy a flip video recorder so you can see yourself on video (this is also great for practicing sales calls). You want to be honest with yourself and know what habits surface when you’re nervous, and practice to eliminate them.
  2. Dress well. Ideally wear clothes that show you in your best light and make you feel terrific. But at the same time, be sure to wear clothes appropriate to the expectations of the interviewer and the business setting. An interview with an Internet start-up requires different attire than an interview with an investment bank.
  3. Limit your application of colognes/perfumes. Strong aromas can be distracting or stimulate allergies.
  4. Visit the rest room before your meeting. You want to pull yourself together before you stand up to greet the hiring manager or enter their office. Don’t walk in pulling up your pantyhose, readjusting your tie, etc.
  5. Be aware of the fact that you are being evaluated from the first second. Project confidence by keeping your head up and shoulders back.
  6. When introduced, offer a firm handshake and look people directly in the eye when saying hello.
  7. When you sit down, keep both feet on the floor and sit up straight. Crossing your legs is okay for part of the time. Sit in a relaxed manner, but don’t slouch. Everyone knows what’s on the line during an interview, and a relaxed manner suggests confidence. But don’t relax so much that you appear casual. This will negate your power and make you seem disinterested at best and disrespectful at worst.
  8. Always maintain eye contact when speaking. This says you’re confident, prepared
    and engaged in the conversation. If you’re speaking to more than one person, glance quickly around the room and return to the person who asked the question.
  9. Show your enthusiasm by keeping an interested expression when listening. Nod and make positive gestures (both not to be overdone).
  10. Face the interviewer directly and point your knees and feet in his/her direction – align your body’s position to that of the interviwer’s. This suggests that you’re alert, focused and interested in what’s being said. Create a comfortable amount of personal space between you and the interviewer. Really knowing that boundary is important. For example, don’t stretch your hands or body over the interviewer’s desk.
  11. Sit still for the most part. Nervous energy isn’t good to display during interviews. Keep your hands on knees. If you are making a point, by all means use your hands – but don’t constantly use your hands (i.e., “speak with your hands). Employ an
    “engaging gesture”, like pressing your fingers together to form a steeple. This suggests attentiveness and thought; but be careful not to overdo it or to “steeple” your fingers at an inappropriate time.
  12. Sit a little bit forward. You don’t want to sit back. Leaning backwards can leave the impression that you are overly relaxed or overconfident, and can convey a lack of respect. Ideally, sit up straight and lean forward at key points of the interview to show that you’re eager and engaged.
  13. Have attention on your body language, but also have attention on how the interviewer perceives your body language throughout the interview so you can self- correct.
  14. Deal with interruptions with grace. If your interviewer is interrupted, don’t stare at them to try to make them rush. You should gesture whether or not you should leave the room and give them privacy. Be patient.
  15. For phone interviews, stand up. Standing increases your level of alertness and promotes a stronger engagement level. Consider dressing up as well to create more of the feeling you’d have if you were being interviewed in person.
  16. “Have them at goodbye” too. Make sure your goodbye handshake is just as confident as it was going in. Maintain a positive attitude and a confident walking stride while you walk through the office building, into the elevator and onto the street. Once safely in your car, a cab or some other measurable safe distance from the scene of your interview, it’s safe to let go.

Here is what NOT to do when it comes to body language: 

  1. For both genders, do not deliver the “dead fish” handshake. It implies weakness and a lack of confidence.
  2. Do not have your hands in your pockets when you are first introduced, or if you are standing at all during any part of the interview. It looks a bit too casual. You should let your hands drop to your side, and speak. When you need to use your hands, use them.
  3. Do not sit with your arms folded across your chest. This generally means you are 
blocking and makes you appear unfriendly or possibly disengaged.
  4. Do not fidget with anything – your nose or your hair. Don’t bite your nails, wiggle 
your feet or endlessly tap or click a ballpoint pen. Don’t crack your finger joints or 
fiddle with your cufflinks. All of these actions imply nervousness.
  5. Don’t shake your legs, whether crossed or uncrossed. This implies that you are not 
comfortable and it can be very distracting to the interviewer.
  6. Eye contact is vital, yes, but don’t stare. Talk, look the interviewer in the eyes, you 
then have a thought, look away, then look back into the interviewer’s eyes. At
times, look to the right, look to the left, etc., then back to the interviewer.
 Sometimes in an interview setting, you can focus too much on impressing the person you’re your “piercing eye contact.”
  7. Don’t rub the back of your head or neck, as these gestures can make you look disinterested.
  8. Do not lean your body towards the door from which you will be leaving, as it makes it look like you’re ready to make a run for it.
  9. Don’t slouch in your seat. You want to have good posture.