Some experts believe that as much as 93 per cent of our communication is through non-verbal signals – or body language. So making a good impression at a job interview is as much to do with what you don’t say, as what you do.
If you get invited to a job interview, in this economic climate it’s likely that the competition will be tough. The company may well like the sound of you from your CV, covering letter or application form, but in an interview situation what they want to find out is how well your skills and experience match the skillset - or ‘core competencies’ - of the position they are looking to fill.
However, when it comes to creating the right impression in a job interview it’s not enough to simply know your stuff in terms of the company, its ethics and culture, and the role you are applying for. The things you don’t say can be just as important.
Body language and manners
When you meet your interviewer(s) make sure you smile, say hello and shake their hand with a firm – but not bone-crunching – grip. Try to maintain eye contact with whomever is talking to you rather than looking at the ground, your hands or around the room, as this will make you appear more confident. Don’t slouch in your seat or you will look bored, and stifle any yawns for the same reason.
Try not to cross your arms or legs because this creates a subconscious barrier between you and the interviewer, and even if they don’t know the rules of body language they will pick up on this. Crossing arms and legs can also make you more tense. You will feel much more relaxed if you sit up straight with both feet on the floor and your hands either resting in your lap or on the table in front of you, if there is one.
Maintaining good manners is also important and shows the interviewer that you respect them and the time they are giving up to see you. Don’t chew gum, pick your fingers (or anything else) or play with your hair, no matter how nervous you are. And make sure you turn off your mobile phone. If you forget and it rings, apologise and turn it off immediately.
Good timekeeping is polite
Being late is disrespectful and, unless you have a really good excuse, will put you in the interviewer’s bad books straight away. Remember, they probably have other candidates to see, so if you are late you could be holding all those people up as well. In extreme cases you might forfeit your interview if you are late, and miss the chance of getting the job you wanted.
If you are on your way to the interview and realise you are going to be late, call the company as soon as you can to apologise and let them know when you expect to arrive.
Plan your route
One way to make sure you won’t be late is to plan your route to the interview in advance. The chances are that you might never have been to the company’s offices or premises before, so doing a ‘dry run’ beforehand – whether that’s driving yourself there, catching the bus or train, or however you are going to get to the interview – means that you will have a chance to get to know the route and work out how long it will take you on the day. Remember to factor in extra time if you will be travelling in the rush hour on the day of your interview.
Planning it out beforehand means it’s also one less thing to worry about on the day. At least you will know where you are going, how to get there and how long it should take you. And make sure you take the company’s switchboard or general phone number with you so that you can call in if you end up running late.
If you haven’t had any or many job interviews in the past, or it’s been a while since your last one and you think you are going to get really nervous and make a mess of it, ask a friend or family member to run through a few practice interviews with you before the real thing.
You can use these to practise your non-verbal signals, and ask the person helping you to tell you what signals they think you are giving off from your body language. This might seem like a pointless exercise, but if you can rehearse good body language and eye contact it becomes more of a habit, and something that will come more naturally to you. After all, practice makes perfect, so the more you do, the more used to projecting the appropriate body language of a successful, open and trustworthy professional you will become.
Sasa Jankovic is a journalist and author of Applying for a job – the essential guide.