Interview Body language – how it can help you or give you away

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Interview Body Language signs
Interview Body Language signs

Bad Interview Body Language

This article, on good or bad interview body language, is from Aussie contractor site www.Brainbox.com.au.

Whilst doing your best to give a good impression and communicate your strengths in an interview, is your interview body language backing you up or letting you down? What non-verbal clues are you projecting, and how does that change how you are being perceived?

We are all aware of own personal space. How people act within, control and use this space can give us a fascinating insight into human behaviour.

We naturally protect our own space and our spatial relationships with others will depend on our relationship with them. Whilst we tend to suppress high emotions under the veneer of calm, the body cannot lie quite so easily.

In the past people were naturally more open and expressive, however we now tend to suppress our feelings and ‘speak’ in latent subtext – that is we usually hide our feelings beneath banal expression, and expect others to ‘read between the lines’.

Thus in Shakespeare we find Romeo declaiming his feelings for Juliet with fierce passion, and yet in a contemporary television drama today you mind find a character in a similar situation shrugging when asked and saying “she’s alright I suppose”.

Unconscious Display

However whilst we may deny ourselves the verbal expression of our feelings, physically we will unconsciously display them. It is useful to know a little of this non-verbal body language, both to ensure we are not unconsciously provoking a bad impression, and also to help read the interviewers position.

In the 1960’s, E T Hall carried out research into this fascinating area, calling the concept “proxemics”, the study of personal interaction viewed spatially, defined as “the study of the ways in which man gains knowledge of the content of other men’s minds through judgments of behaviour patterns associated with varying degrees of [spatial] proximity to them.”

Put more simply, think – how do you relax on your own in front of the TV in your own lounge vs. how do you react in a meeting at work with two salespeople you have never met?

Personal Space Invaders

Have you ever felt that someone was invading your personal space by standing too close to you? And yet someone else could probably stand even closer and you would not feel invaded at all? Hall defined four “zones” of this personal space. These are:

Intimate – the space in which we hug, kiss, whisper secrets

Personal – the space we share with close friends

Social – the space we share with friends and colleagues

Public – the distance at which we keep strangers

It may be helpful to think of these as concentric circles, increasing in size from intimate to public. When we interact with others we establish a comfortable spatial relationship with them by dropping non-verbal hints. This outlines our personal space and the space we are willing to share.

Working Overtime

Generally in an interview, we find ourselves sharing our space with a stranger, at a probably more intimate distance than we are really comfortable with. Hence body language works overtime.

In an interview, often the interviewer is sitting behind a desk, and is therefore protecting their personal territory with a physical object. It is wise then, to avoid placing anything on the desk, or leaning on it, because you will be invading their territory.

It will be tempting to protect your own territory with a physical object too, for example a handbag/briefcase/CV balanced on your knee. However whilst protecting your territory you are signaling, with your interview body language, that you are closed to negotiations. Better to place these items by your side.

If the interviewer is not behind a desk, avoid moving your chair too close in. Again you will be invading their territory and put them on the defensive.

Eye Contact

Eye contact is tremendously important. It conveys a desire to make contact and keep communication clear. If you are sitting in a curved space where this is difficult, use shoulder contact, i.e. lean in your shoulder to theirs. Don’t physically touch shoulders. You don’t want them to think you are a psychopath.

The way you position yourself and the movements you make give off lots of non-verbal clues which illustrate such things as whether you are listening, agreeing, disliking, getting bored with whatever the other person is saying.

This is equally true for the interviewer. Some interview body language is blatantly obvious. If you are telling the story about how you won a certificate for cleaning out the gerbil cages in year 6 and you see them yawn, you know its time to zip it.

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