There are thousands of books, perhaps even more videos, and dozens of Ted Talks which all revolve around the subject of ‘body language’. Most of us are aware that body language is a key component of communication. In fact, 55 per cent of communication involves body language, 38 per cent is your tone of voice, and just 7 per cent is comprised of spoken words. As a result, business savvy leaders spend sizeable amounts on coaches, mentors and consultants to help them improve their non-verbal and sometimes subconscious communication skills.
Working in Executive Search, I speak to CEOs, COOs, Chairpersons, Founders, advisors and other key stakeholders on a daily basis. Many of these individuals have impressive backgrounds, with successful growth stories, exits and IPOs under their belt. However, despite widespread acknowledgement that our body can be the key agent of our message; I still encounter a very large proportion of high performing senior leaders who are unaware of how much their body language can influence people around them, particularly when it comes to finding a new job.
How do you use body language in an interview?
Perhaps the most critical moment in the whole interview process is when the candidate first meets with the client. At this point, the candidate has gone through numerous stages on the Executive Search firm side. Their skills match the brief, and the client has invited them to meet. They can have the most impressive background and many scale-up stories. They could have grown revenues, teams and geographical reach four-fold in the space of 12 months, and on paper, they seem to be the perfect fit.
However, when client and candidates meet for the first time, it’s a bit like a matchmaking process. There is either a spark and a connection – or there isn’t. And all of this all boils down to 3 body language cues: interest, affinity and compatibility, which convey attitude, candidness and personality. If there is a red flag when it comes to any of the above, then the likelihood of this person being hired can quickly go from 100% to 40%. Regardless of skill and experience, if candidates and clients don’t gel and the rapport is not there, then no matter how good they are, they will not get the job.
If you are a candidate, and you’re about to be in this position, it is important to understand how well you communicate through body language. Studies have shown that listeners pay attention to body language more than verbal messages. As such, in face-to-face meetings, we continually process non-verbal cues as a basis of building trust and professional intimacy. And so, if your body language is inconsistent with what you’re saying, it is easy for others to question the credibility of what is being said.
What headhunters and interviewers really want to understand is not only your experience and skillset, but also how much you really want the opportunity, as well as your potential culture fit.
While for most interviewees, showing enthusiasm is basic interview etiquette, a good headhunter or HR professional will be able to tell the difference between someone who puts on a good performance and someone who is genuinely interested. Your attitude and interest can be portrayed in multiple different ways with your body language. Ask yourself how engaged are you in the conversation? This will show your interviewer whether or not you take the opportunity seriously and value their time. There is no point in “playing it cool” if the opportunity genuinely entices you. Act engaged, ask questions and highlight that you are interested in the role not only verbally, but through your body language. Making sure you are using active hand gestures in the conversation is an important tell-tale sign.
A common faux pas that I have noticed is that many people sit back to seem more relaxed and confident in the interview. However, in my experience; this sometimes comes across as being more nonchalant, a jobsworth and snobby – rather than confident and interested. So, keep that in mind when next meeting potential employers. Furthermore, there are cultural differences to bear in mind. While in one culture, it might be impolite to hold a fixed gaze, in another it might be something that’s desired. By being aware of cultural context, and moving beyond words to communicate in the way that feels most natural to you, you will show that you are consciously aware of yourself – while reaffirming the message that you are right for the job. The best way to succeed is to be confident, be yourself and be aware of those who you are talking to.
Subtle behaviours can give your interviewer a positive impression. Whether it’s leaning in when the interviewer speaks, showing cognitive consideration when being spoken to, or gesticulating to show your excitement; these traits will show that you are genuinely interested in the opportunity – giving your interviewer that gut feeling.
As an Executive Search firm, we take pride in finding the right candidate for the job, and this means that we also judge candidates based on their culture fit. Culture fit is a huge part of the recruitment process, particularly when headhunting for smaller, high growth, modern and forward-thinking technology startups. One other important non-verbal cue to consider, aside from your body language, is your dress sense.
Coming in for an interview with a suit and tie for a role in a business that specialises in connecting young people with local jobs, will probably not portray the best culture fit. Dress appropriately for the role you intend to land. Wear clothes that feel comfortable and show a piece of your professional personality. Dress the way you would like your audience to perceive you and use the power of non-verbal communication to speak for you. Let your dress sense be the best impression you can give in respect of the business. Doing so, shows your affinity to their work culture.
Establish affinity by doing your research in advance of your interview. Look at the kind of employees they have employed in the past and use LinkedIn and the company’s social media presence to see how they might sell themselves. If you can transfer that knowledge into a framework for your interview, you will be able to prove that you fit.
Now it’s time to flip the script. As much as you want to impress the company, they should also be trying to impress you if they believe that you’re the right person for the role. Their body language will also be key to you buying into the business and the role. The role can seem perfect on paper, however, if you don’t feel like you have connected with the CEO founder it will be very hard for you to step out of the interview feeling 100 per cent happy and convinced with the opportunity.
What tends to happen, when there is a good rapport, is the interviewer and interviewee will start mirroring each other. Both will become relaxed and be comfortable, which will give the opportunity for both parties to be more candid with their verbal cues and “bounce off each other”. Pay strict attention to how you feel; are you compatible with the organization and interviewer? Try to get cues from their body language to assess how you feel, and if you feel able to build a rapport. If you’re successful in the interview process, you could be working with this person in the future.
Below are a few tips you might find helpful.
- Sit all the way back in your seat
- Use hand gestures while speaking
- Show your palms – this indicates honesty and engagement
- Nod while listening
- Lean in
- Smile (where appropriate)
- Uncross your arms and legs – studies have shown that this improves memory.
- Mirror postures to show agreement
- As an indicator of success, check to see if your body language is being mirrored
There is no perfect science to body language and while cultural differences will mean that individuals respond differently, you should make sure that you are aware of how it influences your interactions. By doing so, you can start correcting any negative cues that may be working against you.