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Body language and the job interview, how it can make or break your shot

body language

Sit like this during an interview and you will send the wrong message

Body language and the interview

Body language during an interview is the topic of today’s post. We might be saying the right things, but if your body isn’t communicating a consistent message, we might as well stay at home. If your body is communicating disinterest, the person conducting the interview will pick up on it. Interviews are about building relationships. Positive body language can reinforce weak interview answers. Weak body language can blow a strong interview.

I am not sure what it is. Maybe I am becoming like my colleague GOM (Grumpy Old Man). Maybe the new generations are just a little more relaxed, but I am noticing a lack or “mindfulness” during the interview.

Decision makers have different values

Interviews have definitely become more casual over the years. If you are a recent graduate, remember the decision makers are usually a generation or two older. These hiring managers have a different set of values and beliefs and make their hiring decisions based on these values. Body language is as loud as the answers to the interview questions. 

I will cover the normal body language points like eye contact and the handshake, but I will also add a few you probably haven’t heard of.

Turn off your phone

When you are waiting in the lobby for your interviewer, stay off your phone. There is nothing worse than the first impression of a candidate than seeing someone hunched over their phone. Actually, there is something worse. Waiting for the person to finish typing their email and hitting send on their phone, and yes, it happens. Sitting up straight and reading the company literature is a much stronger move.

Walk next to your escort

Years ago, I blogged about walking side by side when being escorted from the lobby to the interview room. Too many times, I have escorted a candidate from the lobby to the interview room and found the candidate walking 3 steps behind me. There are a couple of things wrong with this.

  1. As a candidate, it is tough to build rapport with our host when we are walking 3 steps behind.
  2. It signals that you are NOT an equal to the recruiter. It signals that we are weak and not very confident in our selves.
  3. Did I mention it just looks dumb when I am escorting someone through the building and they are walking 3 steps behind me?

Body language matters and in the above situation, the interview was over before we even made it to the interview room.

Below are a few simple ways we can telegraph we are confident and want to be in the interview because we are excited about the new opportunity.


I can’t stress this one enough. People that smile just telegraph a very different message than those who frown. I blogged about the importance of the smile in the job interview here.   You can set a completely different tone for the rest of the day if I come out to the front lobby, you as the candidate stands up to greet me and gives me a big smile. Sitting down and waiting for me to introduce myself is a no go. 

Firm Handshake

The handshake is meant to be a gesture of peace, showing a hand that is not holding a weapon. It is used to start a relationship off on the right foot. Take the handshake seriously. Don’t be afraid to take a firm grip. You only hear about this so much in interviews because so many people get it wrong. The bar for handshakes is low and you be a bar raiser very easily. Firm yes, but avoid the death grip and avoid shaking with two hands.

Are you leaning in or leaning back?

I worked with a guy who used to lean back in his chair with his hands behind his head and his feet stretched out. It was a little offensive. He came off like he was too cool for everyone else. This is not the posture you want to take in an interview. Sitting straight, facing your interviewer, leaning forward and showing interest will always send the right message.

Eye contact

This one seems straightforward, but maintaining eye contact is one of the big misses for candidates early in their career. When you begin your answer and when you end your answer, look your interviewer in the eye.

Panel Interviews

When being interviewed by more than one person, be conscious of maintaining contact with all the interviewers. There is nothing worse than sending a candidate in to talk with two interviewers and the interviewers say that the candidate ONLY maintained contact with one of the interviewers.

College recruiting fair

I blogged about the candidate’s presentation layer at college recruiting fairs here.  Coming to the booth with a jacket, a backpack and a bag full of free swag from 12 other booths isn’t the way to show sincere interest in the company. It looks like we just came to the fair to pick up free stuff. Optimally, we have done our homework on the companies attending the fair and picked one or two companies and are making a beeline to these booths.

Accepting the offer of coffee or water

When you are offered water or coffee, take it. Declining the drink can make you look submissive and as if you don’t belong. If we went to our friend’s house and they offered us a Coke, we would take it. In war times, when two enemies start a negotiation, a cigarette is always offered and even though the other side doesn’t smoke, they accept, light up and cough up a lung full of smoke. It is obvious that the person who accepted the cigarette doesn’t smoke but the gesture of accepting the gift is appreciated.

If you are the recruiter or hiring manager

Try to sit at a 45-degree angle to the candidate. Sitting across from the candidate on the opposite side of the table gives sets the wrong tone. It gives the impression that this is a negotiation and two sides are ready to do battle. Sitting at a 45-degree angle (on two sides of a corner) will create a more inviting atmosphere and make the interview more relaxed.


See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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