It’s all About Body Language in an Interview (Ursula was Right!)

Typically, musical performances by Disney’s evil villains wouldn’t be the recommended place to turn to for job interview advice, but in the case of The Little Mermaid’s Ursula the Sea Witch, we have to make an exception.

As the legendary six-legged saboteur so famously told Ariel just after stealing her voice, “Don’t underestimate the importance of body language!”

And believe it or not, when it comes to job interview success, both recruiters and scientists agree. Both parties stress the importance of first impressions in interviews, and it’s been proven that these are closely linked to body language and non-verbal cues. What’s more, according to one study, body language accounts for 70 percent of the total communication in an interview.

So while saying the right thing and doing a good job of articulating your skills and accomplishments will always be the most important indicator of interview success, it’s still critical you know what kind of interview body language can make you seem confident, engaged, and intelligent – and what kind may leave interviewers thinking you’re more untrustworthy and suspicious than the dear Disney sea witch.

7 Scientifically proven interview body language do’s and don’ts

1. Make good eye contact.

This may not seem like groundbreaking advice, but you may be surprised to know that scientists have managed to prove that those who use direct eye contact during an interview are significantly more likely to be hired than those who look down when speaking. That means that if you and another candidate are neck and neck in the running for a role, simply looking your interviewer in the eye could score you the position.

When you make eye contact, you come off as more confident, responsible, alert, assertive and even capable of taking greater initiative. On the other hand, those who don’t do this well risk being thought of as dishonest and uninterested. So no matter how shy you may be, make your best effort to make good eye contact part of your interview body language.

2. Smile, smile, but don’t be too happy.

It’s long been proven that smiling is one of the interview body language behaviors that make jobseekers seem more hirable, but recently, scientists have come out with a small revision to this rule.

According to two more recent studies, it’s best to smile in the beginning and the end of the interview. Smiling in the middle may actually affect the interviewer’s perception of you negatively if the job you’re applying for is a serious role, like newspaper journalist or manager. So start and finish with a genuine smile – this conveys warmth and interest – but keep your smile in check during the meat of the interview.

3. Be mindful of your voice, tone, and speaking speed.

Ursula didn’t capture all those poor, unfortunate souls without being able to rub a few brain cells together. The sea witch was smart enough to know that Ariel’s voice was important, and again, when it comes to interviewing, scientists are in agreement. Research confirms that those who change the pitch of their voice to match what they’re talking about and those who speak rapidly and forcefully are more successful in job interviews than those who speak softly and slowly with little vocal variation.

4. Don’t fidget.

It’s easier said than done, but try your best not to pull at your clothing, play with your hair, twist in your seat, or do any other kind of nervous gesture. You may not even be aware you’re carrying out these little interview body language ticks, but an interviewer whose sole job is to observe you will notice them. And it’s important to note that these behaviors (called adaptors) are clues to how you’re feeling and are often triggered by stress. So to an interviewer, constantly pushing up your glasses or tapping your pen conveys anxiety, which scientists have proven does not make for a positive first impression.

To keep yourself from going down this path, do some mock interviews and try to note your nervous gestures. Once you identify them, you’ll be more empowered to stop them.

5. Sit up straight.

This may sound like just more nagging from your overbearing mother, but similar to smiling, this is another one of those interview body language do’s that can make you seem more likeable and therefore more hirable. Good posture corresponds with credibility and social attractiveness; not to mention, science has even found that good posture can positively impact your self-esteem and lower your levels of fear. Be wary of sitting too rigidly though - and don’t cross your arms; tenseness indicates concern, and crossed arms insinuates defensiveness and creates a barrier between you and the interviewer.

6. Use subtle gestures to show you’re engaged.

While fidgeting can be a big interview body language no-no, there are some gestures that you can and should make a point to carry out. Specifically, nodding your head as the interviewer is talking and leaning in ever so slightly are two actions that researchers have identified as the kind of expressive behavior that casts you in a favorable light. Otherwise, some hand gestures can show that you’re energized, active, and enthusiastic – three other characteristics that work to your advantage in a face-to-face.

7. Don’t be afraid to pause.

Long, awkward silences are as devastating in a job interview as they are on a first date, but believe it or not, scientists report that short, deliberate pauses before you answer a question make you seem more competent to the interviewer and increases your chances of being remembered. So while you don’t want to pause before every single question, you may want to practice gathering your thoughts and taking a deep breath before your dive into any surprising or especially difficult questions.

Have more questions about interviewing best practice? Download Interview Game Plan to access our comprehensive program of coaching, video instruction, and tips to help you get the job faster.



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