How you stand and sit - what do you with your arms and legs, how you hold your head, your body orientation toward or away from the listener - communicate messages that are interpreted by other individuals as having positive or negative meanings. The listener (interviewer) may not even be consciously aware of what he is reacting to. But he knows that he feels comfortable or uncomfortable, likes or dislikes, trusts or does not trust, the other individual. If the interviewer responds negatively to the applicant's nonverbal communication, it will be difficult for the candidate to overcome those negatives no matter what the verbal interaction.
What then are the behaviors the savvy applicant should display? Behaviors that convey positive messages of both liking the other person and interest in the discussion are:
- body orientation toward the other person
- a slight forward body lean toward the other person
- openness of arms and body
- postural relaxation (but not too relaxed - not tense, but not slouched)
- direct eye gaze
- positive facial expression
Disinterest and/or dislike for the other person is conveyed when the interviewee leans back too comfortably in his chair, is slumped in the chair, constantly looks around the room, avoids eye contact with the interviewer, drums his fingers, wrings his hands, plays with his rings - perhaps turning them on his finger, fidgets, is stone faced or expressionless.
The applicant who slumps or leans completely back in his chair simply can't convey the same level of interest and enthusiasm from that physical position, no matter how wonderful the rest of his other nonverbal messages may be, as the person who sits straight up in the chair and with a slight forward lean. A slouching figure may be interpreted by the interviewer as a sign of disrespect as well as lack of interest.
Direct body orientation means that the applicant's body is facing the interviewer, rather than sideways to the interviewer. If you are seated directly across a desk from the interviewer this position will probably be automatic and natural. However if you are seated at the side of the desk with the interviewer directly behind it or in the corner to corner, 90 degree angle arrangement around a coffee table, you should position your upper torso to be facing the interviewer more directly. You can do this by sitting a bit sideways in the chair and further bending your upper torso, a bit if necessary, to face the interviewer.
Openness of arms and body means that your arms are at your side rather than folded across your body. By folding your arms across your body it is thought that you convey, perhaps on a subliminal level, that you are closed to the other person and to his ideas. The arms open position conveys that you are open and responsive to the other individual and to his message. Granted, there are other reasons you might fold your arms - simply being cold is one of them. But since closed body language might send a negative message, it is better to avoid the closed posture.
If you are too tense, you make the other person feel uncomfortable. There may also be a sense of wondering what it is you are trying to hide. So try to appear relaxed and comfortable - it will help the interviewer feel more comfortable - while at the same time not engaging in so much postural relaxation that you are slouching!
By far the most important positive attitude you can convey is your enthusiasm - often referred to as dynamism. By your dynamic attitude you convey your interest in the other person, in the company, and in the job as well as toward life in general. You convey your dynamism through your tone of voice and facial expression as well as through your use of gestures and body language. Of course gestures can be overdone, but that is far less frequently a problem than the individual who uses few, if any, gestures. Gesture occasionally, naturally, and appropriately to reinforce your message. Do avoid wild gestures that are all over the place and don't reinforce your message.
It is also a good idea to keep your hands away from your face. Both men and women can exhibit preening behaviors as they push hair back out of their face or perhaps unconsciously try to fix or rearrange their hair. Women may unconsciously play with an earring. Or an interviewee may nervously scratch his face or head or push back the cuticles on his fingers. These are distracting behaviors that will focus the interviewer's attention on the unwanted behavior rather than the applicant's positive verbal messages.
Try to avoid having a pen or notepad in your hands except when you are using it. Anything in your hands such as a pen or notepad becomes a likely thing for you to nervously play with. Either of these items in your hands will also impede your use of gestures. If you are holding pen and notepad in your hands, you are far less likely to gesture than if you are not holding onto them.