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You Can’t Fake Nonverbals

Posted on: January 27, 2010

Job interviews are insanely nerve-racking. You want to impress your potential employer so you prepare…or you fake it. It’s easy to fake many parts of a job interview. You can fake your resumé by adding a few simple phrases that make you sound like you have tons of PR experience (even if all you’ve ever done is create a Facebook “event” for a friend’s party), or by slightly tweaking your volunteer work (you voluntarily clean out your closet twice a year and donate to Goodwill). You can also fake confidence by dressing the part. Buying the perfect outfit that is impeccably tailored to fit you and shows off your personal style while still looking professional. There are many ways to fake it during an interview, but there are two things that are nearly impossible to fake: body language and nonverbal communication.  Nonverbals speak volumes. For example, I have a bad habit of twirling my hair when I’m uncomfortable. I used to think I just did it because I was bored or lost in thought, but recently I’ve begun to notice that when I’m in a situation where I feel uncomfortable or embarrassed I immediately reach for a strand of hair and twirl away. This is not something that I would like to do during a job interview. Learning what your body language and nonverbal habits really communicate to others is very important; especially when you’re job hunting.

According to careerbuilder.com, “a lot of job candidates spend a significant amount of time worrying about what they will say during their interview, only to blow it all with their body language.” The Website offers a body language guide for job interviews. The first tip is “have them at ‘hello.’” This means to come prepared to the interview. Know background information about the company and be ready to answer questions about how you can contribute to the company. Also, don’t walk into the interview adjusting your tie or your panty-hose; nobody wants to see that. Next, “shake your hand, watch yourself.” Basically, this means to control your body movements. Don’t drum your fingers on the chair or bite your fingernails. Don’t cross your arms, lean towards the door, or scratch. Scratching brings to mind all kinds of bad things – drug addiction, lice, hygiene issues – that you really don’t want a potential employer to connect with you. Finally, “say goodbye gracefully.” When the interview is over, give your interviewer a firm, confident handshake and walk out of the building just as cool, calm and collected as you came in. Only after you are a safe distance away from the interview site are you allowed to breathe again. You’re even allowed a victory dance if it went well; maybe to the tune of “Shake it Fast, Watch Yourself” by Mystikal… Just a suggestion. For a more in-depth list of body language dos and don’ts visit careerbuilder.com.

An about.com article by Alison Doyle explains how nonverbal communication can be used to impress a potential employer at a job interview. According to the article, “the evaluation of your nonverbal communication will start as soon as you walk into the company’s lobby and continue until the interview is finished. If your nonverbal communication skills aren’t up to par, it won’t matter how well you answer the questions.” Doyle stresses the importance of how you wait for an interview. I doubt many people consider that how you greet the receptionist and what you do while you wait for your interviewer can have an impact on whether or not you’re considered for the position. Doyle says that you can impress an employer by being friendly to the receptionist and any other people you speak to while waiting. It’s also important to sit quietly while waiting for the interview and refrain from talking or texting on your cell phone. She offers lists of things that you should and should not bring to an interview. For example, you should bring a portfolio, resumes, a pen and notepad, and breath mints. You should not bring your cell phone, iPod, cigarettes, gum, soda or coffee, or scuffed shoes and/or dirty clothes. I can’t imagine an employer taking a job candidate very seriously if he or she walks in reeking of cigarettes, popping gum, and listening to their iPod so loud that everyone in the office can hear the lyrics to the new Lady GaGa song. Finally, Doyle gives a list of good nonverbal communication to use during the interview.

  • “Make eye contact with the interviewer for a few seconds at a time.
  • Smile and nod (at appropriate times) when the interviewer is talking, but, don’t overdo it. Don’t laugh unless the interviewer does first.
  • Be polite and keep an even tone to your speech. Don’t be too loud or too quiet.
  • Don’t slouch.
  • Do relax and lean forward a little towards the interviewer so you appear interested and engaged.
  • Don’t lean back. You will look too casual and relaxed.
  • Keep your feet on the floor and your back against the lower back of the chair.
  • Pay attention, be attentive and interested.
  • Listen.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Stay calm. Even if you had a bad experience at a previous position or were fired, keep your emotions to yourself and do not show anger or frown.
  • Not sure what to do with your hands? Hold a pen and your notepad or rest an arm on the chair or on your lap, so you look comfortable. Don’t let your arms fly around the room when you’re making a point.”

An article on mindtools.com titled “Body Language: Understanding non-verbal communication” explains how body language is used in different situations. The first topic is first impressions and confidence. How a person enters the room can tell you a lot about the confidence level of that person. The article lists five characteristics of confident people.

  • Posture – confident people stand up straight with their shoulders pushed back
  • Eye contact – they keep solid eye contact with a “’smiling’ face”
  • The use of gestures – confident people gesture with purpose
  • Speech – confident people speak slowly and clearly
  • Tone of voice – they speak in a moderate to low tone

The next topic is defensiveness. According to the article if a person is feeling like they’re being attacked they will go on the defensive and stop listening to you. The article lists five signs of someone who is feeling defensive.

  • “Hand/arm gestures are small and close to his or her body.
  • Facial expressions are minimal.
  • Body is physically turned away from you.
  • Arms are crossed in front of body.
  • Eyes maintain little contact, or are downcast.”

Finally, the article discusses body language during interviews. If you are in an interview and are asked a tough question there are ways that you can nonverbally tell your interviewer that you are truly pondering the question (even if you’re just faking again…). Typical signs of serious thinking include:

  • “Eyes look away and return to engage contact only when answering.
  • Finger stroking on chin.
  • Hand to cheek.
  • Head tilted with eyes looking up.”

There are many more body language and nonverbal communication topics discussed on this Webpage but I thought that these three were the best for interview preparation. Following these three tips can help you nonverbally tell your interviewer that you are confident, help you avoid looking defensive if you feel slightly offended, and let them know that you are truly considering the best answer to a tough question.

So, as you can see, it’s pretty darn tough to fake your nonverbal communication. It speaks louder than words and your interviewer will read a lot more from that than he or she will from your resumé – no matter how good you “faked” it to sound. Good luck!

– Allison

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9 Responses to "You Can’t Fake Nonverbals"

Allison, I loved your blog!! It literally made me laugh out loud when you told the story of your hair twirling habit. I have a friend who does that. It also reminded me of a scene from high school when my best friend looked at me one day and said “Dang! What kind of face was that?” Apparently I had given someone one of those go somewhere looks and didn’t even realize it. It is very important to recognize what your body does and the types of body language/nonverbals you publicize. I would hate to know that I blew a job interview because of a sour face I made. Thanks for the tidbits, I really enjoyed it!

Great Blog!.. It is very detailed and was very easy to read..

[…] | scost1 January 31, 2010 at 8:09 pm […]

I can completely sympathize with your hair twirling habit because I have a habit of popping my knuckles. I’ve always been told that if you have an issue with keeping your hands busy, it’s a good idea to have a pen handy and pass it between your fingers. So long as you do it out of the view of the interviewer, it will keep your hands busy and still enable you to look professional.

I think it’s interesting and kind of strange that one of the tips is that you aren’t supposed to lean towards the door. I’m not sure if I ever lean or I even happen to be leaning towards a door in an interview. Is there a reason why we should avoid leaning towards the door? Are there any tips to make sure that you aren’t doing this?

[…] You Can’t Fake Nonverbals by Allison […]

While I don’t have enough hair to twirl I do catch myself trying to tuck my hair behind my ear, maybe its phantom hair (at one point I had shoulder-length hair)? I personally love nonverbal communication because it tells so much more than words. The crazy thing about most of these nonverbal cues and reactions happen so quickly that we ourselves don’t notice them. Sometimes the person looking at us doesn’t ‘notice’ them put does pick up subconsciously. I believe that I read somewhere that the unaware but noticed body movements occur with the eyebrow raise. We quickly raise our eyebrows when we are truly interested.

[…] #10 You Can’t Fake Nonverbals, Allison Allmond April 12, […]

Yes I agree! Job interviews are extremely nerve-racking. I always just try to sit still, smile, and answer the questions to the best of my ability, and it hasn’t failed me yet. The tips you researched about making good eye contact, smiling, being polite, and not slouching are all very important to keep in mind and follow. Don’t interrupt is a real good tip also, for some employers may find that offensive and rude. I fiddle with my hands a lot so I am going to use the tip that you included in your blog about holding a pen or notepad. Enjoyed the informative blog.

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