Many interviews fail because of lack of proper communication. But communication is more than simply what you verbalize. Often it is the nonverbal communication that we are least aware of, yet that speaks the loudest. Following are the top five nonverbals, ranked in order of importance when it comes to interviewing:
Unequaled in importance! If you look away while listening, it can indicate a lack of interest and a short attention span. If you fail to maintain eye contact while speaking, at a minimum it can indicate a lack of confidence in what you are saying and can even send the nonverbal cue that you may be lying. Do not just assume you have good eye contact. Ask. Watch. Then practice. Ask others if you ever lack proper eye contact. If they respond that they did notice, ask if it was during speaking or listening. Numerous candidates maintain excellent eye contact while listening, but lack eye contact when speaking. Or vice versa. Next, watch a recording of yourself. It does not necessarily have to be your mock interview; in fact, if you were recorded informally (that is, you were not aware you were being recorded), this will provide even stronger evidence. Then sit down with a friend and practice until you are comfortable maintaining sincere, continuous eye contact throughout the interview.
Many college students are unaware of the sullen, confused, or even mildly hysterical expression plastered on their faces during the entire course of the interview. Some interviewers have been known to hang humorous labels on these students, such as "Ms. Bewildered" (who looked quizzical during the interview) or "Mr. Psycho-Ax-Murderer" (who looked wide-eyed and determined to do something, although you dare not ask what). Take a good, long, hard look at yourself in the mirror. Look at yourself as others would. Then modify your facial expressions—first eliminate any negative overall characteristics that might exist, then add a simple feature that nearly every interviewee forgets to include—a smile! Not some forced cartoonish grin, but a true and genuine smile that says you are a happy person and delighted to be interviewing with the company. You do not need to keep the smile plastered on for the full interview, but remember to keep coming back to it. Think about it—who would you rather spend an hour with?
Posture sends out a signal of your confidence and power potential. Stand tall, walk tall, and most of all, sit tall. That is not said to offend the short people of the world. Height is not what's important, posture is. When standing, stand up straight. When you are seated, make sure you sit toward the front of the chair, leaning slightly forward, moving within an overall range of no more than 10 degrees back or 20 degrees forward, showing genuine interest.
Contrary to popular belief, gestures should be very limited during the interview. So please don't use artificial gestures to try to heighten the importance of the issue at hand (pardon the pun). It will merely come off as theatrical. When you do use gestures, make sure they are natural and meaningful.
Recognize the boundaries of your personal space and that of others. If you are typical of most Americans, it ranges between 30 and 36 inches. Be prepared, however, not to back up or move away from someone who has a standard personal space which is smaller than your own. Hang in there, take a deep breath, and stand your ground. For most of us, merely the awareness of our personal space is enough to consciously prompt us to stand firm when speaking with someone. If you have a smaller-than-average personal space, make sure you keep your distance so that you do not intimidate someone who prefers a larger personal space. P.S. If you want to have fun at a social gathering, step inside the personal space boundary of a friend. With some practice, you can back up the person around the entire room without them even being aware of what is happening.
Eye contact is an area of importance that many often give lip service to, yet fail to implement in actual practice. If you have difficulty maintaining eye contact, try this simple technique to lock in a strong first impression. Concentrate on noticing (and remembering) the color of the person's eyes as you shake hands. In doing so, you will not only show excellent initial eye contact, you will also show a level of interest in your eyes, which will be clear and focused.
If you have difficulty maintaining eye contact due to discomfort at looking someone directly in the eyes, use this technique instead. Simply stare at them directly in the nose. You will not have the discomfort of direct eye contact, yet the person you are speaking with will perceive that you are making eye contact (even though you may be busily sizing up their nasal openings). Just make sure you don't become so preoccupied with your nasal staring that you end up being distracted from the interview.
Don't just give lip service to the concepts listed above—practice them! How? With a nonverbal interview. Unlike the mock interview, this one does not require a great amount of preparation—just an observant friend. Ask the friend to ask questions, but instead of focusing on your answers, ask him to make note of your nonverbals and body language and the messages being sent. Or play back your mock interview with the sound off. The results might surprise you.