At some point, someone will have probably told you that 90 percent of communication is body-language. While the truth is a little more complicated, experts are in agreement that your body-language can convey a huge amount of meaning. In any interaction, we’re giving off non-verbal signals, even if we don’t realise it – and whoever we’re interacting with is picking up on those signals, even if they don’t realise it. These signals might be working against you in an interview setting, with your body telling a story that’s at odds with the impression you want to give. Here’s some information on eye contact and posture to help you ensure that your mouth and body are speaking the same language.
It’s common knowledge that eye contact is an immensely important part of communication. Good eye contact signals that you are comfortable with the interaction that is taking place, and crucially, that you have no reason not to be comfortable. In an interview setting, sustained eye contact can indicate that you’re attentive, open and confident, while an unwillingness to make eye contact can make you appear distracted, evasive and troubled with self-doubt (which for all the interviewer knows, may be justified).
Of course, you can’t just stare at the interviewer. Holding someone’s gaze for too long can come across as arrogant, challenging or even aggressive. There’s no hard and fast rule for how long eye contact should last, but research conducted by psychologist Alan Johnston and his colleagues at University College London gives a rough idea – they found the average amount of eye contact time people are comfortable with (from a person they do not know) to be 3.2 seconds.
As to how often you should make eye contact during an interaction, that too is up for debate. According to US-based communications-analytics company Quantified Impressions, you should probably be locking eyes 60-70 percent of the time during a conversation. However, in its survey of 3,000 individuals, the company found that in reality, people make eye contact only 30-60 percent of the time in an average interaction. The safest bet is to take cues from your interviewer: if they’re reluctant to meet your gaze, don’t try to force them, but if they seem to like looking, look back!
It’s vital that you appear engaged and interested during an interview. A slumped posture and fidgeting – playing with your hair or a button on your shirt, chewing your pen, biting your nails etc – tell your interviewer that you’re not particularly invested in the role, or that you have a short attention span. And they also make you look anxious. Obviously, you are anxious, but it goes without saying that during an interview, you need to keep your nerves in check.
A good posture will help you do this, while making you appear confident and alert. Sit up straight and move your shoulders slightly back, plant your feet firmly on the floor and place your hands in your lap. This posture is used in numerous forms of meditation. Breathing slowly and evenly through your diaphragm while sitting in this way should help you to relax without making you sleepy, and will give you something to do with your body other than fidget.
That being said, your interview isn’t a yoga class, and you might come across as a little unnerving if you remain completely inert. Feel free to gesticulate – although do so sparingly. Just don’t cross your arms, as this can imply defensiveness.
You don’t need to maintain an acute awareness of your body. That can be counterproductive – and unpleasant! Instead, just check from time to time what your body is doing, and correct it if you need to. Your body-language has the potential to undermine you, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Try to see it not as your enemy, but another tool to enhance your performance in an interview. Remember: it’s your body, and you can make it work for you!