When preparing for a job interview, it’s easy to get caught up in the most prominent aspect of the meeting, which is verbal communication. However, it’s important not to lose sight of other ways that you can—consciously or unconsciously—send cues about your feelings and disposition. In many ways, nonverbals are just as important as the words you speak aloud. Make sure you take some time to prepare yourself in this regard for best results at your interview.

Nonverbals describe the body language and unspoken cues which you send. They can range from something as subtle as a facial expression to your gestures, your posture, and even nervous ticks or habits you might not be aware of. While verbal communication can be subtle and nuanced, nonverbal cues are truly capable of making or breaking an interview without you even realizing it.

Imagine yourself as a hiring manager, sitting across from an applicant. The individual you’re speaking with is providing good answers with a mature, professional tone. However, the person is constantly shifting his or her gaze, rarely making eye contact with you. In your mind, does it make it more difficult to assume that the answers being provided are wholly truthful? This is just one example of the potential impact of nonverbals during job interviews.

Starting Off on the Right Foot

Your first impression is important in any meeting, and a job interview is no exception. When introducing yourself, it’s important that you remember to make eye contact and offer a smile. Your smile need not be over-exaggerated; appearing polite and inviting is all that’s necessary. Forcing a huge grin will make you seem a little too eager, or worse, disingenuous. Remember also that a smile includes your eyes as well—it’s preferable not to underwhelm your interviewer with a flat, unenthusiastic expression.

Among nonverbals, one of the most important areas to focus on is your handshake. Just as your smile, your handshake is one of the best ways to reaffirm your interest and commitment when making an introduction. A grasp which is loose, limp, or seems reluctant will reflect your intentions as a prospective employee—you’ll appear hesitant to fully commit. By contrast, crushing your interviewer’s hand in yours is a good way to appear anxious or even aggressive. As always, balance is the key.

An ideal greeting is easy, natural, and friendly. By starting off on the right foot with your interviewer, you’re sure to have an easier time maintaining confidence throughout your conversation.

Tips for Success During the Interview

Now that you’ve made a good introduction (or reintroduction), it’s time to focus on how you conduct yourself physically throughout the actual interview. There are numerous dos and don’ts you’ll want to keep in your mind for best results:

  • Do continue to make eye contact throughout the conversation
  • Do keep a positive, upbeat tone—remember to smile
  • Do sit up straight and toward the front of your chair to appear engaged
  • Do keep your hands folded neatly, but make basic gestures to accentuate your responses

Conversely, there are a number of pitfalls you should try to avoid with regard to nonverbals:

  • Don’t avoid making eye contact or let yourself be continually distracted visually
  • Don’t let your tone steer toward negativity or appear disinterested in the dialogue
  • Don’t slouch or slump back in your chair; an overly-casual attitude is not recommended
  • Don’t talk too much with your hands—avoid relying on big, exaggerated gestures

Your goal should always be to convey a personable, professional demeanor during an interview. It’s a good idea to take a reasonably casual position so as to appear comfortable and confident, but coming across as too casual is a risky proposition. You never want to seem disinterested or unenthusiastic about earning a job offer, so make sure it doesn’t appear this way to your interviewer.

Always keep in mind that the words you choose tell one story, but nonverbals often tell the whole story. It’s easy to tell someone you’re committed and invested, but something else entirely to show it through body language. Just as you might sit down with a friend or relative to practice your responses to interview questions, take some time to review nonverbals. Just as your verbal responses, these types of physical cues can impact your meeting in a substantial way.

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