When people are in interviews, and thinking about how to best answer questions, how to create a positive chemistry, and how to be assertive, they often don't realize that sometimes their body language speaks louder than their words.
What does your body language say in an interview?
I'll take a Margarita, please! I interviewed someone recently that had good experience and communicated well verbally. However, he was so "relaxed" in his chair that it seemed like he thought he was lounging by a pool hoping to catch a waiter to order a drink! While his skills fit, it made me wonder if he would be engaged in a project or could handle a fast-paced environment at all. It's good to be at ease in an interview, but not so much so that you come across as a slouch. It's not necessary, or preferable to have a stiff-straight back in your chair, however, don't slide down and lean back so far that it's not clear you're engaged.
I want this job and I'm going to jump across the table to get it! Opposite from being too relaxed, some candidates are overly engaged. They might lean forward to much, be overly animated with their hands, speak too loudly or quickly, have a bit too much enthusiasm, and generally come across as over-eager. While it is important to show an interest and passion for the position at hand, taking it too far comes across as desperate. One of the biggest reasons it's generally easier for someone that's already employed to get a new position vs. someone that's unemployed, is because they usually come across less desperate. They don't need the job as much, so they ask better questions and evaluate the position more thoroughly for their own fit and interest.
Let's explore this together as two competent professionals! There are certainly many other things your body language can convey as well. However… a great interview is a give and take dialogue between 2 people that both have an interest to explore fit and suitability for the position at hand. Neither one is over-anxious, or takes the other for granted. They are engaged, have a passion for what they do, and it comes across in their body language. Sitting attentively, but at ease with themselves and the situation. Enthusiastic, but not "hyper". Confident, but not passive. There is a balance. Just as there is a balance in making a positive impression when meeting someone new in a social situation, the same applies in an interview.
What should you do? There are no one-size-fits-all answers as to exactly what it should look like. Each person has unique mannerisms, natural postures, facial expressions, and other characteristics. Trying to become like someone else, rarely comes across well. It generally looks awkward and unnatural. However, if you are someone that tends to slouch in a chair, practice in a mirror to find a comfortable position that appears more engaging. If you tend to come across overly aggressive, practice to find a more relaxed posture where you can feel at ease. Here are some observations that may be of help…
- Don't cross your legs with your ankle on your knee. It's not unusual for men to do this, however, in most cases it appears tense and somewhat awkward. Additionally, sometimes the bottom of your shoe may be facing the interviewer… it's not usually a pleasant sight, depending on what may be stuck to the sole! Crossing your legs, knee over knee is usually fine, as long as it's not accompanied by slouching too far in your chair. Both feet on the floor is fine as well, as long as it feels comfortable and natural.
- Sit straight, but not stiff. Sitting straight up in your chair, with both elbows on the armrests can look engaged and natural. However, sitting bolt-up or leaning forward too far can seem nervous, uncomfortable, and over-eager.
- Watch the hands. If you are someone that becomes very animated with your hands when you talk, you may need to be somewhat conscious of your movements. Some say you should always hold your hands together on your lap or on the table and never move them. I don't think that's necessary. Some gestures with your hands are fine and further show you are engaged. However, if your arms are flailing wildly to make a point… you've probably crossed the line of what's appropriate.
No matter how well you may have prepared to answer questions well, your body language is responsible for a great deal of the impression you make. Practice interviews with someone that will give you honest feedback. Practice in a mirror. Consider your posture and your movements during your interview, and you will make a more positive impression.