How to Nail Your Interview: A Guide to Nonverbal Communication

How to Nail Your Interview: A Guide to Nonverbal Communication


Has your job search led to an interview? If so, congratulations!


Now that you have their time, it’s important you use it to leave a positive, lasting impression on your potential future employer.


Nonverbal Communication and How it Impacts Your Interview

Getting an interview is an exciting step and has the potential to truly make a huge impact in your life if it goes well! For all interviews, you should prepare; this should include responses to potential interview questions, along with how you are going to present yourself.


Your first (and lasting) impression will be impacted by so much more than what you say, so smooth talkers beware: you are not exempt from the preparation involved in nonverbal communication! The way you market yourself physically can have just as much, if not more of an impact than the responses you give to an interviewer’s questions.


Leaving an Impression

Nonverbal communication is both active and passive, which means there may be times when you might not even realize you’re sending someone a message. Hiring managers are observant so they can learn a lot about you before you say a word (and not just with a background check). The way you look, smell and act all drop hints about your personality whether you mean it to or not. The observer will make immediate associations in the brain that start to shape the person’s opinion of you based on the information available, and the process will start before your conversation does.


We have all been told not to judge a book by its cover, but an interviewer will do just that. The very first impression we give when face-to-face with someone else relies heavily on our visual appearances. Studies show that people can often make accurate judgements on your personality based on a single look at you. If you want to influence the way people perceive you, take control of these nonverbal cues and use them to your advantage. This awareness serves as a handy skill in an interview setting.


interviewing for a good job

Behavior to Avoid

Anyone can pick up on nonverbal communication. That means when you go in for an interview, it pays to be conscious of your nonverbal cues with everyone you come across, from the doorman to the hiring manager. Here are some bad habits you’ll want to avoid during your interview:


  • Bad Handshake — Nobody likes an awkward handshake, so approach it with confidence and integrity. Don’t go for a casual, limp-wristed handshake when you’re meeting a hiring manager who will determine your suitability for the job. Offer a firm shake that suggests confidence.
  • Overexcitement — You have every right to be excited about your opportunity, but make sure your level of enthusiasm is appropriate. Employers want to see that you are eager about potentially working for their company, but if you come off too over-the-top, it may read more like desperation. There is a fine line to walk with this!
  • Signs of Distraction — appearing disinterested is a notoriously bad nonverbal cue. Don’t check your watch or look at the clock, and never check your phone during an interview. If the hiring manager sees that you’re distracted during the interview, you might not get a chance to prove you’re an attentive worker.
  • Interruptions — Verbal interruptions are rude and unwelcome in most situations, so they obviously have no place in an interview. Be careful not to make any unintended nonverbal interruptions like clearing throat while the other person is talking. If you’re under the weather and can’t refrain from coughing or sneezing, let the hiring manager know and consider trying to reschedule your interview.


While these are general rules to follow, a bad handshake or a stifled cough isn’t going to completely kill your chances of nailing the interview. In today’s competitive world though, it often comes down to the nitty-gritty. Try to cut out these habits in your daily life so they don’t come out when it means the most.


Positive Nonverbal Behavior

Nonverbal communication isn’t just a way to sabotage yourself. If you’re aware of your tendencies and can control how you express yourself, you can use nonverbal cues to your advantage to give yourself a leg up during an interview. These are the positives that hiring managers look for:

  • Dress the Part — What you wear says more about you than you might think. Someone in clean, appropriate clothes will come off as more professional than someone in a wrinkled shirt and sweatpants. Dressing well will not only make you appear put together, but it will also make you feel more confident as well.  People who “dress for the job they want” often seen as more professional than their counterparts, and have even been known to make more money.
  • Consistent Eye Contact — To be clear, there is such a thing as too much eye contact. Staring down the interviewer is awkward and sets an uncomfortable tone for the exchange. However, the more common problem is the lack of eye contact. It’s normal to have nerves, and deflecting glances might be your typical response. In an interview setting, do your best to make regular eye contact with the interviewer both when you’re speaking and listening.
  • Reception to Conversation — Everyone likes to know that they are being heard. Nodding along with conversation, as well as smiling and laughing at appropriate times, will show that you’re engaged in the discussion. If you don’t appear interested in the job, the interviewer won’t be interested in hiring you. Be receptive to the conversation and actively listen when it’s not your time to speak.
  • Straight Posture — The way you physically hold your body reflects greatly on how people view you. Slouching and leaning back both make you seem unengaged or distracted, while a straight posture shows more attention and enthusiasm. No one’s going to blame you if you aren’t fully upright, but try to stay close to it.
  • Note-Taking — Whether you’re jotting down questions for later or soaking up all the knowledge you can, hiring managers like to see people taking notes. Bring a notepad, a pen (and a backup pen in case the first one jams up). Just don’t click the pen or tap it against your notepad as you wait to respond.


men shake hands
men shake hands after the interview


All of these elements indicate that you’re engaged in the conversation, absorbing the information, and processing it through your own lens. An interview is a two-way street so there will be plenty of back and forth, making body language all the more important for both parties. Be aware of yourself, read the room, and use nonverbal communication to score points rather than lose them.


Again, it’s worth noting that following these do’s and don’ts will only help to sway the vote in your favor. It pays to be polite and respectful, but you still have to know your stuff in order to impress the hiring manager. Do your homework and learn about the positions you apply for, and use positive body language to hit it off with the interviewer and land the job.


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