The Body Language Thats Making You Unemployable

Sarah Butcher | E-Financial Careers

Why have you been to multiple job interviews and had no job offers? Why do your interviewers look at you as if you’re Nigel Farage? Share on twitter Why do they stare out the window while you explain your motivation for working there?

If you’re interviewing for a job in an investment bank, your lack of success may be because banks are conducting purely ‘informational interviews’ – namely interviews with the sole intention of extracting market intelligence from unsuspecting candidates. Then again, it may also be because your body language during job interviews is a big turn-off.

Why is body language so important to interview success? A seminal study on ‘non-verbal cues in the employment interview’ published in the Journal of Applied Psychology 30 years ago, found that interviewers see motivation, social skills and ‘hireability’ as highly correlated. Motivation can be difficult to prove: interviewers are reliant upon candidates’ own claims about their level enthusiasm. However, social skills can be judged objectively – through body language. Body language therefore becomes the key component of hireability.

In other words, if you get your body language wrong, you will be viewed as both socially inept and a bad hire Share on twitter. If you want to avoid this and to get your interview body language right, this is what you should not do.

You are slouching or assuming other powerless poses before the interview

It’s a cliché to say that first impressions count. It’s also true.  ‘Confirmatory bias’ occurs when an individual decides that something is true and then actively seeks evidence to affirm this decision whilst discounting evidence disproving it. Confirmatory bias has been shown to be an issue in employment interview situations. “Most hiring decisions are made within the first ten seconds of an interview,” says Patti Wood, a US body language guru and author of numerous body language books.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to increase the chance that your interviewer’s first impression is favourable.

A study by Harvard Business School found that candidates make better impressions in interviews if they spend two minutes before the event in a ‘high power pose.’ This kind of pose can involve one of two things: standing, feet apart, with your hands on your hips; or sitting on a chair with your hands behind your head and your feet up on the table.  In a test involving 66 Columbia University students, those adopting such high power poses prior to their interview were deemed significantly more hireable. The researchers postulated that this was because high power poses actually produce the impression of power – they increase testosterone and they reduce stress, anxiety and production of the stress hormone cortisol. Power-posers seem more calm and collected in a subsequent interview situations as a result.

To turbo-charge your power pose, Harvard’s researchers also suggest that whilst posing you should be scanning photographs of faces on a computer: this will help activate the ‘social component of power’ and enhance the pose’s efficacy.

Conversely, you should not spend time before the interview in a ‘low power’ position. For example, don’t sit with your hands or feet crossed. This kind of submissive pre-interview stance will erode your attempt to project confidence in the interview. For this same reason, you should not spend your pre-interview time checking your mobile phone: you will hunch over and assume an involuntary pose of powerlessness. “It’s sounds like a small thing, but don’t get out your smart phone while you’re waiting for the interview,” says Wood. “It looks bad: your body bends over and you’re looking down. Little changes like that can have a big impact.”

You are misjudging the preliminary handshake

Shaking hands in an interview situation is fraught with danger. Wood points out that handshakes must be culturally aligned: Asians expect soft shakes, Westerners expect hard ones. Russian women have notoriously limp shakes. Get the shake wrong and you could cause offence: “A soft handshake conveys trust in Asia,” says Wood, “an initial hard handshake with an Asian can really affect the job interview.”

You are failing to make enough physical contact

Although handshakes are fraught with peril, the more you shake hands with and come into physical contact with your interviewer, the greater your chance of interview success.

“Physical touch is a very important piece to the interview,” says Wood. “A handshake has been shown to be equivalent to three hours of face to face verbal interaction in establishing rapport. If you shake your interviewer’s hand, it will immediately make you feel more comfortable and more likable. This is very beneficial in an interview situation.”

Wood advocates multiple handshakes, especially in the interview’s ‘exit phase.’ Try shaking hands as you stand up from the table. Do it again as you go out through the door.

You are avoiding eye contact with the interviewer 

Making eye contact with the interviewer is also a good way of increasing your likelihood of success. Various studies of interviewee body language have shown that candidates who engage in eye contact are deemed more alert and assertive, more dependable, more confident, more responsible, and more creative.

You don’t need to maintain eye contact with your interviewer while you’re answering their questions. But Wood says you do need to be looking them in the eye when they’re talking. “It’s about being present and connected to the interviewer,” she says. “There’s research showing that the amount of eye contact an interviewee made with the interviewer while questions were being asked is a key determinant of success.”

You are copying your interviewer when he folds his arms and crosses his legs

In theory, it’s a good idea to ‘mirror’ or mimic the body language of your interviewer. Mirroring is supposed to make people warm to you. “If you are mimicking your interviewer’s posture it’s no bad thing,” says Adrian Furnham, a professor of psychology at University College London.

Wood says mirroring is helpful for establishing rapport at the start of an interview. Too much emphasis on mirroring may be detrimental, however: a recent study found that candidates whose body language mirrored that of an unfriendly interviewer were seen as less competent.

You are forgetting to smile 

Smiling and head movement are proven determinants of interview success. However, fake smiling will work against you, particularly if you are a woman and your fake smiles are concocted to mask negative emotion.


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