Body Language Don’ts for the Interviewee

  • Posted by Steve Goldberg
  • |
  • September 22, 2015
body language don'ts

So you’ve bought the perfect interviewing outfit, you’ve memorized your results and contacts from the past 4 years working in digital media or ad tech, studied the company and done all the right things to prepare.  But if you don’t take a page out of George Clooney or Meryl Streep’s “books”, it could all be for naught.

Those in the acting profession know the value of body language.  It is essential to their success.  They practice it, they use it to convince their audience, and they use it to have their character come to life.

While you will not be signing up for acting class anytime soon, understand that how you act during a job interview is every bit a part of how you market yourself and “build the brand of you”. Your success on the interview will depend on it.

I get it.  Job interviews can be a bit nerve-racking and you might have all you can handle in preparing for what you want to say.  But as I am reminded every day in business, “it is not just what you say; it is how you say it.”  No matter what the job –CRO, VP Sales, Account Executive, Marketing Manager, Account Manager, Ad Ops Director, etc…whether you are in digital media, Ad Tech or SaaS, non-verbal cues are vital.

You can only make a first impression once!

First things first,  come to the interview prepared. That means doing your homework:  pour over the company’s website, read up on the recent company news, understand the job requirements and qualifications, speak with people who work (or have worked) at the company to get a sense of the corporate culture, etc.

Statistically, it can take anywhere from 3 to 30 seconds for the interviewer to size you up.  Some experts say it’s on the lower side of that range.  “When you walk into a job interview, the first impression is made in three to seven seconds,” says Mary Dawne Arden, an executive coach and president of Arden Associates in New York. “One study found that a first impression is based on 7% spoken words, 38% tone of voice and 55% body language.”

So what’s the big deal? Well, imagine that you are the hiring manager and you’ve reviewed a resume of what looks like a strong applicant for a digital sales role. But at the initial interview the candidate offers a dead-fish handshake, fidgets in their chair, keeps flipping their hair, doesn’t make sufficient eye contact, and sometimes mumbles. Would you hire that candidate? Would you not be concerned that this how they would be in front of a client or on a sales call?

But do not fret, prospective candidates. If you become aware of your body language habits and practice changing them, you can improve the impression you convey and greatly increase your chances that you’ll nail the interview, land the job, and take the next vital step in your career.  This blog is in two parts, the do’s and don’ts.

Here is what NOT to do when it comes to body language:

  1. While in the waiting room, do not slouch, bring food or drinks, chew gum, put your feet up on the table in front of you, or be on the phone (which should already have been on mute).
  2. Do not have your hands in your pockets when you are first introduced, or if you are standing at all during any part of the interview. It looks a bit too casual. You should let your hands drop to your side, and speak. When you need to use your hands, use them.
  3. For both genders, do not deliver the “dead fish” handshake. It implies weakness and a lack of confidence.
  4. Do not sit with your arms folded across your chest. This generally means you are blocking and could make you appear unfriendly, defensive, arrogant or possibly disengaged.  I recommend also that you not cross your legs, and you try keeping your knees close together and crossing your legs at the ankles.
  5. Do not fidget with anything – your nose or your hair. Don’t bite your nails, wiggle your feet or endlessly tap or click a ballpoint pen. Don’t crack your knuckles or fiddle with your cuff-links, and don’t shake your legs, whether crossed or uncrossed as all of these actions imply nervousness.
  6. Eye contact is vital, yes, but don’t stare. Talk, look the interviewer in the eyes, you then have a thought, look away, then look back into the interviewer’s eyes. At times, look to the right, look to the left, etc. briefly, then back to the interviewer.  I would recommend not looking down though.
  7. Don’t rub the back of your head or neck, as these gestures can make you look disinterested.
  8. Do not lean your body towards the door from which you will be leaving, as it makes it look like you’re ready to make a run for it.
  9. Don’t slouch in your seat.  You want to have good posture with a straight spine and shoulders comfortably pulled back.
  10. Hand gestures are fine, but not too exaggerated.  Some larger-than-life movements can imply you’re stretching the truth, so be careful to monitor your arm movements.  Use small, controlled gestures to indicate leadership and confidence.

While these tips are very important, you don’t want to be too overly-focused on your behavior such that you are not focused on the substance of your conversation.  You want to be self-aware without being self-absorbed, so to speak.  As for the “winning” body language gestures, I’ll list them for you in my next post, so stay tuned.