You’ve pressed your interview suit, printed extra copies of your résumé and writing samples, and researched your interviewer and potential employer. You have gone over your answers to potential interview questions in your head a million times. You are ready to enter that interview room and effectively communicate your interest, skills, and experience to your interviewer with insightful and concise answers. Wait a minute. Before you interview, have you paid any attention to your body language and how it might be enhancing or negating your statements? Are you alert to others’ nonverbal cues so that you might be able to make adjustments during your interview if necessary?
Communication studies have found that there are three elements to any face-to-face communication: words, tone of voice, and nonverbal behaviors. In addition, studies show that tone and nonverbal elements are particularly important for communicating feelings and attitude, especially when they are incongruent with the words being said. In short, if your words disagree with your nonverbal behavior, people tend to believe the tonality and nonverbal behavior.
Controlling nonverbal messages can be difficult, particularly when you are nervous. Thus, you will want to be aware of your mannerisms in advance and practice matching your nonverbal cues to your words. Below are some common mannerism issues you will want to be aware of as well as some “don’ts” experienced and shared by interviewers.
Let’s be honest—job searches can be brutal on the ego as you wait to hear back from résumé submissions, hope for second interviews, and receive the occasional rejection letter. No matter how exhausted you are, you cannot go into an interview wearing the bumps and bruises of your job search. You must maintain a positive, upbeat demeanor that shows an enthusiasm for the employer and their work.
Plan to arrive early to the interview so you will arrive calm and unflustered. If you are more than 10 minutes early, kill some time in a coffee shop or reviewing your notes before going in. Stop by the restroom to make sure your appearance is how you intend it to be. Wait patiently until you are called. Do not pace or text incessantly. All these behaviors reflect poorly on a candidate, conveying nervousness or disinterest, and will ultimately be included in the evaluation.
Walk into the room with assurance, confidently shake your interviewer’s hand and make eye contact while saying hello. When the interviewer offers you a seat, sit upright with your shoulders back. Sit comfortably with your lower back against the back of the chair. Sitting on the edge of your seat will make you look nervous and will be exhausting if your interview lasts more than 15 minutes. Keep your hands folded in your lap or in front of you on the table. Crossing your arms can be interpreted as defensiveness, so resist the urge to do so. Feel free to “talk” with your hands but make sure your gestures are appropriate and proportional to your words. Do not twirl your pen or your hair. Do not, under any circumstance, doodle on or in your portfolio.
Be aware of your feet and legs, even if under a table or desk. An interviewer once described an interviewee who “bounced” his leg throughout the entire interview. While the interviewer couldn’t see the shaking leg, the vibration shook the entire table (including the interviewer’s cup of coffee) and was a major distraction. Cross your legs at the ankle or place both feet flat on the floor to convey a professional and confident demeanor.
A challenge for many interviewees can be where to look throughout the interview. While you must make eye contact with your interviewer, fixating on them exclusively can make them uncomfortable. Practice maintaining eye contact during the question, breaking eye contact while considering your answer, and then resuming eye contact while you give your answer. No matter how the interview is going, don’t look at the clock or the door.
Voice and Tone
Nerves can wreak havoc on your tone of voice by hastening your speech, making your voice higher pitched, or creating a “waiver” as you speak. The best way to keep things under control is to deliberately pause before speaking. This will result in a number of benefits: you will avoid interrupting the interviewer as he finishes the question, you can formulate a reasoned response to the question, and you can concentrate on enunciating and controlling your voice.
Be aware of “filler words” that have crept into your vocabulary. Common filler words are “um,” “uhh,” and, everyone’s favorite, “like.” One interviewer reported an interviewee who used the word “like” so much that the interviewer stopped focusing on the interview and began counting the number of times the interviewee used that particular word. The interview quickly became a waste of everyone’s time. It can be very difficult for a person to catch her own use of filler words, so practice your interview responses with a friend and ask him to be aware of any words you overuse.
After a number of interviews, you might have answered the same question over and over. However, keep in mind that this is the first time this particular interviewer has heard your answer and you must sound engaged and enthusiastic. If you have a good answer to the question, of course you can use it in all your interviews. However, if you challenge yourself to adapt your response slightly for each interviewer or employer, your response will remain fresh.
Watch for Cues
The mannerisms of your interviewers provide you insight as to how you are being perceived and how you might adjust your responses and/or mannerisms. If your interviewer is leaning in while you talk, you may want to increase your volume. Likewise, if your interviewer is leaning back or moving her chair away from you, you might be speaking too loud or even sitting too close.
If your interviewer appears to lose focus during your answers, pay attention to the length of your answers and make sure you are not rambling. One interviewer reported asking only two questions during a 30 minute on-campus interview as the interviewee was exceptionally long-winded and continued to talk even when the interviewer attempted to ask another question.
Some interviewers fail to focus on the interview, taking phone calls or otherwise interrupting the interview. If your interviewer is distracted, make sure you answer his questions concisely and directly. You will want to repeat your most important points in subsequent answers and possibly refer back to the same in your thank-you letter.
Be mindful of the interviewer’s time. When she no longer has questions, you should be given (and take advantage of) an opportunity to ask some questions of your own. However, if you have asked your questions and the interviewer has asked “Any other questions” several times, she may be trying to wrap up the interview in order to maintain her interview schedule or adhere to other commitments. Follow the cues that the interview is over, summarize any major points or finalize any statements, thank the interviewer, and ask about next steps. Leave the interview on the same positive note in which it began. Make eye contact and shake the interviewer’s hand before you go. On your way out, thank any support staff who helped you or shepherded you through the process.
Practice Makes Perfect
You have enough on your mind during an interview, so the last thing you need is to feel paranoid about your body language and mannerisms derailing your statements. You want your mannerisms to be second nature, and the best way to do this is to practice. Whenever possible, take the opportunity to practice interviewing. If you are involved with a student organization, organize a mock interview program for your members and invite faculty members and alumni to participate. Take the practice seriously and ask your interviewer to evaluate you on your responses and your mannerisms. Ask him to point out any deficiencies or concerns in either area. All this practice will give you confidence needed to make a huge impact on the interviewer.