“Sit up straight!” Were you often chided by your mom for that slouchy posture? If you did heed her precious advice then you not only saved yourself a lifetime of suffering from musculoskeletal ailments but could have also ended up impressing your employers at job interviews. For your posture is the window to your inner self. The way you hold your body reveals more about you than your words. Hunching over and slouching in your chair gives interviewers the impression that you are anxious, lazy or worse… even overtly comfortable.
“I once interviewed a candidate for a senior banking position here in the UAE and his posture was so stooped that he couldn’t even make eye contact with me. Everything about his posture said, ‘Don’t hire me’,” recalls Dr Mercedes Sheen, academic head of psychology at Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University, Dubai. “Studies have shown that individuals who sit up straight are more likely to view themselves as having strong leadership skills, whereas those with hunched postures have higher risks of feeling easily stressed and therefore are less likely to be hired.”
But this also does not mean that you should sit at the edge of your chair. Then you come across as being nervous and tensed. Leaning back, on the other hand, can make you look casual. “The ideal posture,” points out Dr Sheen, “is relaxed and leaning slightly forward, about 10 degrees, towards the interviewer, and this makes you appear both interested and involved.”
On the day of the interview remember you will never get a second chance to make a great first impression. They say the first 30 seconds of an interview are arguably the most crucial. The moment a candidate walks into the room his or her posture, gestures, facial expressions and eye movements are carefully watched by the interviewer. In such situations body language is perceived as an unspoken indicator of confidence and comfort. In the short span of an interview your appearance and body movements showcase who you are. “Good posture reflects a confident demeanour to others. When you stand straight, with your shoulders back and head held high, you look self-assured and poised,” says Anne Jackson, life coach and CBT practitioner, and founder of One Life Coaching, Dubai.
Albert Mehrabian, a pioneer researcher of body language in the 1960s and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, listed three elements of communication: content (7 per cent), tone of voice (38 per cent) and body language (55 per cent). Of these, Mehrabian said that body language – non-verbal cues – have the most significant impact on how a message is received and how likeable someone is.
“Body language – posture in particular – is an unconscious way of transmitting your mood and thinking, and the old saying ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ is comparable to body language,” says Dr Sheen. If you say that you are an outgoing person and at the interview sit there fidgeting with your hands and cannot even make eye contact then they will know that your words don’t match up to your actions.
Body language also complements soft skills, which are greatly valued in the global employment market today. Studies show that employers prefer candidates with strong interpersonal abilities. The 2019 Global Talent Trends Report by LinkedIn validates this as 92 per cent of talent professionals and hiring managers agreed that applicants with strong soft skills are increasingly important. In fact they say it could make or break hiring the perfect candidate as 89 per cent feel that “bad hires” typically have poor soft skills, and this includes body language. “If you have two candidates, with the same qualifications and similar experience, the person most likely to be chosen will be the one who has the better networks, relationships and who appears more confident in the role. This can be seen in how they present themselves, how confidently they speak, how effectively they get their message across,” says Wendy Shaw, Dubai-based certified trainer of mBraining, NLP and hypnosis coach.
Organisational experts suggest if you want to create a positive impression along with body language, even how you enter a room can make or break your chances of getting hired. “Does your demeanour say that you are ‘sorry to interrupt’ or does it say ‘are you ready for me yet’ compared to a more confident ‘I have arrived, great to meet you and I am ready to learn more about the company and the role’?” asks Shaw. She recounts an incident where she was pointed to a candidate waiting in the lounge area. “I saw her slouched on the sofa scrolling through her phone, no awareness of me or others and very much in full view of the team. She didn’t get the job.”
It’s these little things that can kill your chances of getting a good job offer. But just like rewiring your brain, can you build positive body language? Largely controlled by our subconscious mind, our body language reflects our thoughts, feelings and overall mental state. That is why for many of us, nervousness and anxiety manifests in tense shoulders and worry, overthinking and apprehension are reflected through prickly palms and fidgety fingers. “Having increased awareness of our unique bodily responses to emotions can help better nurture our mind-body connection,” says Malak Kamel, psychologist and clinical director at Thrive Wellbeing Centre, Dubai. The most important rule, she says, for good body posture during a job interview is to be yourself. “Be confident, knowledgeable, curious and engaged in conversation. Consider your interview to be a professional conversation rather than focusing on it being an assessment.”
So, keep a check on your thoughts and enter the interview room with a relaxed posture. Offer a firm and friendly handshake. One of the most important non-verbal forms of communication, the handshake can set the mood for the entire conversation. Next put on your best smile. Smiling not only makes you appear attractive and trustworthy, it also improves your health. “Smiling can trick your brain into feeling happy, even when you feel sad or anxious. Smiling slows the heart and relaxes the body. It releases endorphins that counteract and diminish stress hormones,” suggests Jackson.
Look at them in the eye. In romantic lingo locking eyes is way more intimate than words will ever be and the same is true when you want to appear credible and honest to your future employers. Appropriate eye contact conveys that you are interested in the conversation. Again remember to not stare, break eye contact by looking away and blinking. “Interviewers meet several candidates, and your aim should be to connect with and be remembered by them. While it may seem challenging at first to make eye contact with a stranger, focus on speaking with sincerity and genuineness, this can allow for a professional bond to be established rather quickly,” says Kamel.
A definite no-no when it comes to positive body language is fidgeting. Twirling your hair, biting your nails or touching your face or neck are signs of anxiety. These nervous movements draw attention away from what you are saying and send across the message that you are not self-assured. “If you are naturally prone to fidgeting then use your hands actively in open gestures to help you express yourself,” says Jackson. Try not to cross your arms; it conveys the message that you are unhappy with what is going on around you. Also, slow down your speech and nod your head to let them know that you understand them.
But if these pieces of advice do not resonate with you, then adopting the power pose might just do the trick. According to Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy, taking on the body language of a powerful person changes the way other people perceive you, which in turn can reinforce your confident behaviour. In the case of an interview, Cuddy suggests that before the interview stand tall, throw your hands in the air and widen your stance, as if you are soaking in the applause after an encore performance. Practice it in the elevator or stairway on the way to the interview or in the bathroom. Hold the pose for two minutes to set those hormonal changes in motion and this will give you the confidence you need to ace the interview.
Body language tips for your virtual interview
• Eye contact is very important, especially for a video interview. Practice looking directly into the camera rather than at the screen. A candidate who is looking elsewhere could make the interviewer feel that he or she is not interested or disconnected.
• Fidgeting with jewellery or biting nails signal a lack of self-confidence and can be very distracting on-screen.
• Posture is important. A relaxed posture shows that you feel comfortable and confident. Crossed arms could be mistaken as a symbol of arrogance or of not being open. Practice holding arms at your side or bringing them together in your lap – this shows others that you are open to what they are saying.
• Using your hands to emphasise what you are saying can make you appear more credible. However, excessive usage can be distracting.
• The way you speak can also make an impression. Fast speech makes you appear nervous and can be hard to understand, especially during a video interview. Take a deep breath; hold it for a second and focus on slowing down.
Info: Dr Mercedes Sheen, academic head of psychology at Edinburgh Business School, Heriot-Watt University, Dubai