When you're interviewing for a job, it's not always just about what you say, but what you do – or don't do.
Hiring managers pay attention to your verbal answers, but they're also looking at how you deliver them. Do you look them in the eye? Do you fidget, play with your pen or fold your arms across your chest? All of these nonverbal cues end up being a part of the overall impression you make.
Your eye contact, handshake and posture can all help or hinder your chances of landing a job, found a study from OfficeTeam. Most interviewers decide whether they will consider hiring a candidate before the candidate even has a chance to answer multiple questions, and the OfficeTeam study found that more than half of employers know within the first five minutes of an interview if a candidate is a good fit for a position.
Survey respondents, which included more than 300 U.S.-based senior managers, reported that nearly a third of applicants sent negative nonverbal signals to the interview teams. The most frequent nonverbal cue that relayed information about a candidate was eye contact, with a score of 4.18 out of 5, followed by facial expressions (3.96), posture (3.55), handshake (3.53), fidgeting or habitual movements (3.33) and hand gestures (3.03).
Practicing positive body language
There are positive nonverbal cues that you can send during an interview to help the interview team view you favorably. In general, sitting straight indicates that you're paying attention, and a slight lean forward conveys interest and engagement. A warm and genuine smile makes everyone feel more comfortable. You should also have a firm handshake, but not too firm – crushing hands is no way to win favor!
Hand gestures during the conversation are fine, but refrain from fidgeting mannerisms, such as shaking your leg, tapping your fingers or playing with a pencil.
Finally, maintain eye contact. Staring is not acceptable, but looking at the speaker in the eyes, with slight breaks to look away, is optimum. The goal is to be engaged and interactive. Looking someone in the eye when they are speaking to you, and while you're responding, indicates respect for the person and that you are present in the moment. Frequently looking away or over your shoulder while talking to them conveys disinterest.
How to dispel interview-day jitters
Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder, said anxiety can cause many body-language issues. But doing your homework before a meeting can help ward off those nerves, she said.
"The best solution to minimize pre-interview anxiety is solid preparation," Haefner said in a statement. "If you don't read about the company and research your role thoroughly, you could magnify your fear of interviewing poorly and lose the opportunity."
To increase your confidence – and therefore, your positive nonverbal cues – during an interview, Haefner offered the following tips:
Practice: Being prepared is the best way to avoid an interview disaster, Haefner said. She recommends practicing your interview skills ahead of time with friends or family members. When you're finished, ask them for feedback on things like posture, your handshake and eye contact. If you record your practice sessions, you can identify any mistakes you're making unconsciously.
Know your elevator pitch: An elevator pitch is a 30-second speech summarizing what you do and why you'd be a perfect fit for the role. Haefner said this is a good answer to the common interview question "tell me about yourself." In addition to having your answer ready, you should be prepared to back up your claims later with specific examples that showcase your skills and experience.
Do your homework: Take time before an interview to research the company you are interviewing with, and come prepared with several questions for the interviewer. Haefner said this helps you show employers that you're just as interested in them as they are in you.
Relax: Haefner said taking a few deep breaths prior to the interview can relieve some of the anxiety that leads to fidgeting and other nervous tics.
Additional reporting by Chad Brooks. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.