Say No More: 5 Non-Verbal Interview Tips

non-verbal interview tips

Say No More: 5 Non-Verbal Interview Tips

Interviews are stressful to almost everyone. You want to sound great, but not arrogant, accomplished but not overqualified, enthusiastic but not overeager.

So what can you do? Well, you can practice with friends or family (maybe not colleagues if you don’t want your boss to find out), you can study your resume extensively so that you do not stumble over answers, and you can make sure you are prepared for tough but common interview questions (see our post on Five Hard Interview Questions and How to Answer Them for more on that).

But here’s the not-so-great news. What you don’t say can also greatly influence how your interview goes. Sometimes your interviewer will consciously notice these unspoken things, sometimes it’s more subconscious, but it will dissuade them from moving forward.

non-verbal interview tips

We offer these non-verbal interview tips to keep in mind:

1. Be Wary of What You Wear. Most people are at least sensitive to the fact that they should not show up to an interview in a shorts and a t-shirt. On the other hand, a lot of companies have long done away with traditional business attire – a recent study reported that 50% of companies allow casual dress at least one day per week.

So what is the right dress code for an interview between flip-flops and wingtips? That depends – so ask. Talk to whomever is setting up your interview – even a quick email saying, “I am looking forward to my upcoming interview with Acme. Could you tell me what is the appropriate dress for this meeting?”

[bctt tweet=”Be sure to clarify that you want to know what is the right attire for the interview not the job — you don’t have the job yet.”]

You want to usually dial your outfit up a notch above their every day expectations (unless they really are business attire every day, in which you need only match that).

If they all wear jeans and t-shirts, you want to at least wear slacks and a button down shirt. If they all wear sleeveless sundresses and sandals, you’ll likely want to wear closed-toe heels or flats and a casual but sleeved dress. It is always easier to remove a tie and open the top button of your shirt, or let down your hair and swap out your pearls for (small) hoops, then to show up underdressed.

2. Keep it natural. That means no cologne or perfume, easy on the make-up, not too heavy on the hair gel, just generally a conservative, simple approach. Some people are very sensitive to smell and the last thing they want is to be trapped in a small interview room with someone doused in heavy fragrance.

This also is not the time for your ironic tie, funky earrings or other highly personal choices. It is not about hiding who you are – it is about keeping the meeting focused on the part of you that is relevant to your role. Even creative agencies are less likely to penalize you for discreetly wearing long sleeves over your tattoo or removing your third and fourth earrings. You can be cool once you are employed – or even better, after hours.

3. Eyes On the Job. Or, at least, the job interviewer. Anxiety during an interview is completely natural, and no one is going to penalize you for the occasional nervous stutter or awkward moment. But people are subconsciously sensitive to interacting with those who make little, or no, eye contact. For whatever reason, this gets interpreted as untrustworthy or under confident.

One of the most important non-verbal interview tips then is to remember that regular, relaxed, direct eye contact with who you are speaking to will put them at ease and make you more likeable – even if they don’t realize it.

4. Straighten up. Just like your mother used to say – “Don’t slouch.” That means walking in standing up straight with shoulders back, and once seated, not slouching into the chair. It can look like you are not interested, not listening, or just not very self-aware.

Sitting up properly indicates non-verbally that you are engaged and intrigued by the speaker. You will also find that your own speaking projects better when you are practicing good posture.

5. Sit still. Don’t fidget, twirl your hair, tap your pen, tap your foot or gesture wildly. Why? At worst, it is super annoying, at the least it is distracting to the person listening to you, or talking over the noise you are making (it may not seem like it, but the constant clicking of a pen can be really irritating over the course of a 30 minute interview).

Many people who talk with their hands don’t notice it themselves. These are things that we do when we are nervous, in particular, and our mind is on what is stressing us out (the interview) not how we are reacting to it.

How to make sure you aren’t a clicker/tapper/twirler? Have someone video you in a mock interview. You may be shocked by just how much you move around. Stop it.

Be who you are in an interview – just with better posture and less cologne.

At the end of the day, what you say in an interview is likely to have a lot more weight than what you wear or whether you use your hands when you speak. But people do react to visual cues when they speak with others, and you want to make sure that the ones you send say “Hire me.” Being aware of the above is half the battle – once things are pointed out to people, they are more likely to notice it themselves. So these tips are actually pretty easy to implement, it’s just a matter of practice. Take a breath, smile . . . and then let your mouth – not your hands – do your talking for you.



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