The Most Important Interview Nonverbals

What you say is not nearly as important as how you say it.

Many interviews fail because of lack of proper communication. But communication is more than just what you say. 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:

  • Eye Contact — 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. I have met a number of candidates who maintained excellent eye contact while listening, but lacked 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.
  • Facial Expressions — it continually amazes me how many college students are totally unaware of the sullen, confused, or even mildly hysterical expression plastered on their faces during the entire course of the interview! It is almost as if four years of college has left some students nearly brain-dead or worse. Some interviewers (not myself, of course) 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 stupid Bart Simpson grin, but a true and genuine smile that tells me you are a happy person and delighted to be interviewing with our company today. 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 thirty minutes with?
  • Posture — posture sends out a signal of your confidence and power potential. Stand tall, walk tall, and most of all, sit tall. I don't say this to offend the "short people" of the world—in fact, I am under 5'5". 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, intent on the subject at hand.
  • Gestures — 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.
  • Space — 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 personal space that 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 possesses 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 even being aware of what is happening.