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March 4th edition of the Telegraph featured a tongue in cheek article about what your handshake says about you, asking ‘do you have a terrible handshake?’ Unsurprisingly it generated quite a bit of comment, mostly in the negative, however it does raise an interesting point. If first impressions count, what can we do to create a more favourable impression and what are the traits we need to avoid, particularly when looking for a new job and attending interviews?
Below are some common body language mistakes to avoid at interview:
The author of the Telegraph article advised us that ‘a limp handshake is one of the worst mistakes people make in interview situations, but it’s just one of several awful hand-based greetings’. The article is tongue in cheek and is quite opinionated however the gestures highlighted are worth consideration. Please follow this link if would like to view the original article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/11449187/Do-you-have-a-terrible-handshake.html
In short, a poor handshake, whether too limp, strong or generally awkward, can severely impact the first impression someone has of you. Your handshake should be firm but not crushing and the process should last between two and five seconds. You should only move in an up and down motion and you should ensure to look the person in the eye. Make sure your hands are clean and dry and do not use your other hand to clasp the other persons wrist or arm.
Poor Eye Contact:
Next to the limp handshake, poor eye contact is one of the main body language mistakes. This can be in the form of no eye contact, shifty eyes – lots of upward movement of the eyes – can imply you are lying, or staring.
Experts advise us to hold the interviewers gaze for slightly longer than we may feel is comfortable. You should meet the other person’s eyes, particularly when shaking hands, but should avoid drilling into them. Staring into someone’s eyes can be perceived as aggressive and can make the other person feel uncomfortable. To avoid a feeling of discomfort for both parties, try focusing on the other person’s face, looking at different parts every few seconds. It ensures you look engaged and interested but are not staring directly at their eyes all the time.
Posture is an essential aspect of nonverbal communication, whether sitting or standing, and it can tell an interviewer a lot about you. Slouching can imply you are lazy, leaning forwards can be seen as aggressive (although others suggest it implies and interest I the conversation) and leaning back can be confused as arrogance or laziness.
Experts advise us to sit tall with a straight back and a neutral position. If you wish to show interest, you can lean in slightly but you should keep your chest high and your shoulders back. When walking or standing, you should have your shoulders back and your neck straight, and you face the interviewer directly. Whether sitting or standing, keep both feet on the floor and try to relax into a comfortable position.
Excessive hand gestures such a pointing can be perceived as aggressive as they hack at the space between you and the other person. Think Alan Sugar in the Apprentice. He points and then aggressively says “you’re fired”.
Instead, you should try to keep you palms up – a signal of honesty and engagement – and use relaxed and natural hand gestures.
Crossed Arms, hands behind your back or in your pockets:
When we are nervous, we tend to hide our hands. Folding our arms, putting our hands in our pockets or behind our back are all attempts at controlling our fear and creating a sense of confidence. We hope to protect ourselves and to hide our nervous tension.
Crossed arms can signal that you are being defensive, whilst hands behind your back or in your pockets can make you appear stiff and anything but relaxed or confident. Try to keep you hands to the side with palms facing up, or rest the gently in your lap if sitting down. This should make you seem more approachable and self-assured.
Fidgeting is a sign of nervous energy. Whilst some nervousness is to be expected, an excessive amount of nervous energy can work against you, distracting the interviewer and implying a lack of confidence.
As indicated in the last point, you should keep your hands to the side with palms facing up, or placed gently in your lap. Biting your nails, jingling your keys, clicking you pen or excessively touching your face should be avoided at all costs.
Nodding your head is an excellent non-verbal way to show you are listening and that you understand what is being said. It shows you are engaged, that you are enjoying what is being said and that you are focused.
Unfortunately, excessive nodding can undermine our attempts to conveying understanding and focus on the conversation. Try to limit the amount you nod, ensuring your smile and maintain eye/face contact.
Facial expressions are a significant part of non-verbal communication. Humans process what they are seeing and hearing to create an opinion and so it is important that what we see and hear match. In an interview situation, you facial expression should match the emotion in your voice. If you are enthusiastic or passionate about something then the interviewer would expect to see this in your face – typically your face will light up, you will smile and become more animated. If all they see is a deadpan expression – a definite mismatch – then it would imply what you say is untrue.