It can be discouraging to go to work every day in a job that drains you emotionally. Especially when that job doesn’t pay enough to support you and your family. You’ve tried to change that. You’ve job hunted, you’ve gone to interviews, but you’re having a hard time getting that job you want. Well, what if I told you that nailing the interview for that job requires a different set of skills than the ones listed on your resume? With a few simple changes to your body language, you can tell people that you are the right person for the job without having to say a single word.
The Power of Body Language
People make snap decisions about who you are when they first see you. In fact, these judgements are so powerful that it prompted a study by a Princeton professor named Alexander Todorov. He showed participants pictures of opposing political candidates and asked which one had won. With just a quick glance at the pictures, the participants predicted with about 70 percent accuracy who won the elections. Just from a picture. They didn’t need to know background, policies, experience—just how good the candidate’s selfies were.
How a person looks is a powerful influencer on what we think about that person, and Todorov found there are two main traits that we’re looking for in a person’s face—trustworthiness and confidence. Your potential employers definitely want to know if you’re competent, but they also want to feel warmth and trust.
Research suggests that nonverbal communication is up to 13 times more powerful than verbal communication. And it’s not hard to see this. If someone’s nonverbal and verbal cues don’t match, our brains are quick to pick up on it. And more often than not, the nonverbal wins. If you tell the interviewer that you’re excited and passionate, but your tone is timid and your shoulders are hunched, they’re just not going to believe you.
So how much of our communication is nonverbal? Various studies say that nonverbal communication makes up as much as 93 percent of all our communication.
But where do we tend to put most of our focus when we’re preparing for a job interview? We spend most of our time focusing on the words we’re going to say!
In a 30-minute conversation, two people can send over 800 nonverbal signals. That’s a lot of information. Some of that information is being perceived by the interviewer consciously, some unconsciously, but it’s all contributing to whether or not they’re going to hire you.
Taking Control of Your Body Language
The hardest part of taking control of our nonverbal communication is taking control the primitive part of our brains (also known as the brain stem, in case you were wondering). It’s responsible for autonomic functions like breathing or pumping your heart. It’s also responsible for something we call fight or flight, which, in our primitive days, would kick in to keep you safe from a hungry tiger.
Unfortunately, it also starts to act up if there’s a perceived social danger.
So if you’re sitting in a job interview and your heart starts beating and your palms start sweating, and you can’t think clearly, it’s because your brain is trying to convince you that that interviewer across that table is a man-eating tiger. That part of the brain is the source of a lot of body language that leaks through when we’re nervous or bothered by something.
There are two aspects of body language you should focus on when preparing for an interview: high-power body language and low-power body language.
A study of the 2004 Paralympic games found that even blind athletes from different cultures who had never seen body language would physically react the same way as people who had seen body language their entire lives. If they were successful and won something, they displayed what is called high-power body language. They had their shoulders back and their heads high. Oftentimes they raised their hands above their heads. This is a natural way that we show that we’re confident and comfortable.
Low-power body language is just the opposite; it’s about taking up as little space as possible. For example, taking a step back or distancing ourselves from something that makes us feel uncomfortable. Another thing we tend to do when we’re uncomfortable is fold our arms. We try to block the source of our discomfort by placing objects in front of us. Rubbing your arm, playing with your hands, rubbing your neck, or playing with your hair, those are self-soothing or calming gestures that we do to try to make us feel better. I see all of these in job interviews, and it all comes from the primitive part of your brain is saying that there is a man-eating tiger across the table.
When in an interview, you don’t want to let the primitive brain take control. You don’t want to look small and afraid. You want to convey power and confidence, but you don’t want to come across as aggressive. With a few simple changes in your next interview, you can boost the perception of warmth and confidence authentically.
Tip #1 – Be expansive
Keep your head high and your shoulders back. Don’t shrink into your torso, which is what we tend to do when we’re nervous. Let your arms and legs take up space. Open yourself up a little bit more, but not too much or you’ll look overly confident.
Tip #2 – Unblock
You can block with anything: your arms, a purse, a briefcase, a binder, a folder, a desk. All those can serve as a barrier to protect you from the man-eating interviewer. So remove those obstacles, even if it makes you nervous.
After removing obstacles, face the interviewer directly, showing them that you’re engaged and confident. Typically, when we talk to people we’ll angle out a little bit. But research shows that people that are seen straight on are viewed as open minded and trustworthy.
Tip #3 – Show your hands
Your hands are trust indicators that go back to our caveman days. This is actually the origin of why we started doing handshakes. It was a way to show that you didn’t have a weapon and that you could be trusted. And this still has a powerful effect on how we see people.
During the interview, make sure your hands are visible, use them to talk, and make sure they’re not hidden in your pockets or beneath the table.
Another obvious way to show your hands is by nailing the handshake. The first, standard rule is to make your handshake firm. You should also keep your hand at the same level as the other person. You’ve heard the term upper hand? If your hand is above the other person’s during a handshake, it can be perceived as a show of dominance. Keeping your hands even shows that you’re not trying to be subservient or dominant to the other person.
If you can show that you’re competent and confident, and also warm, open, and trustworthy, you’ll get admiration and respect—and you’ll get more jobs. You probably already have those qualities, now all you need to bring your nonverbal communication into alignment so you’re showing your true potential.