How Body Language and Image Affect Your Job Interview

Waiting nervously for interview.
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Body Language and Image in Interviews for Technical Professionals

After all your effort in selecting the right role and sending off your brilliant cover letter and resume comes the time for the actual interview.

Our industry leading IT Client Managers (recruiters) have already provided you with tips on the Behavioural Event Interviewing (BEI) process on this site. However, this paper discusses the often overlooked and equally vital issues of Body Language and Image in a job interview. In a technical industry such as IT, some candidates are prone to being disadvantaged by wearing inappropriate dress and having poor body language - which is often caused by nervousness. This document is applicable to both IT recruiter interviews and Client (future employer) interviews. So please read this easy to follow practical advice on these subjects and increase your success rate of getting an offer.

The Importance of Body Language and Image in the Interview Process

Did you know that Body Language (non-verbal signals) are approximately five times as effective as the spoken word? And that visual ‘first impressions’ make the biggest contribution to an interviewer making their mind up either positively or negatively about you, usually within the first five minutes.

This is what makes your attention to detail about your ‘image management’ vital to your success. Everything from your entry into reception to how you engage in conversation with recruiters and potential employers is being subconsciously and consciously evaluated. This is why it is important to project yourself confidently, with a positive tone. Not brashly, not arrogantly, but by being prepared (researched), appearing interested and upbeat about the role AND meeting the interviewer. The interview should not be viewed as a trial, but as a chance for a pleasant mutual information transfer.

Initial interviewer impressions include your entrance, handshake, eye contact and physical appearance. All of these facets comprise the impression you will make, and can often convey a stronger message than what you actually say. Because once a bad impression is made the interviewer is likely to tune out or look to closing down the interview early. Your job here is to make a strong early connection with the interviewer so they want to listen to you and put you forward.

Job Interviews: The Components to Success

The components that an interviewer makes judgments on when first meeting someone includes, but is not limited to:

  • Posture
  • Eye contact
  • Personal Grooming
  • Clothes
  • Body Language

Your Posture

Confidence is projected when you walk tall with your head up and shoulders back. At all costs, avoid ‘programmer’s slouch’ from days spent hunched in front of a computer. Exercise and a healthy life-balance contribute long term to great posture and well being. However, in the short term even the healthiest candidates, if feeling particularly intimated, will need to check that they are maintaining a good posture. Getting friends to evaluate you at this point in ‘mock interviews’, can provide fantastic feedback.

Ideally, your posture should embody a confident and friendly entrance into the reception and continue when you are greeted by the interviewer. During the interview, sit up straight with your bottom into the back of the chair. This will ensure good posture and project interest and alertness. You may wish to lean forward at certain stages during the conversation, but avoid taking up the interviewer’s ‘personal space’ or appearing too eager or even desperate. Again it’s a fine line that only practice will help you to get ‘right’.

Eye Contact

Maintain comfortable eye contact throughout the interview. Looking directly at the person you are speaking to is interpreted as a gesture of interest, trust, and confidence, so ensure that this is done throughout the interview – about 80% of the time. It is noted that when people are asked to recall work examples there is a natural tendency for them to look down or up as they process the request. Make sure that after you have accessed your (well practiced) example that you remember to return to your natural eye contact during the re-telling.

Additionally, you can use a nod of the head to indicate understanding and agreement. It is advisable to smile your way through most of the interview – which will have the natural effect of putting the interviewer and yourself at ease.

Shy people may find it difficult to maintain a long eye contact and may even try to over-compensate. It should be noted that coming up with the equivalent of a ‘death stare’ is equally distracting. Natural eye contact, smiling, good posture and the confident ‘body language’ suggestions below only improve with practice.

Personal Grooming

Grooming usually involves all the things that your mother told you about. Such things as a neat hair, clean facial hair (men), clean fingernails, use of deodorant etc. For women light make-up with natural lipstick shades, and light or no perfume work best. Ideally, clean your teeth before the interview so that your breath will be smelling fresh. Another option is to eat breath mints before the interview. Under no circumstances should you be either chewing gum or have a mint in your mouth during the interview.

For cigarette smokers, please ensure that your clothes and hair do not smell of cigarettes, as this can be a real negative with employers.

Remember to give yourself plenty of time before the interview to attend to your hair, cool down or touch up. It is advisable that you have a practice run to reach the interview place on time. On the day of the interview, leave for the interview early to ensure there is plenty of spare time should a delay occur. This will reduce the chance of you looking and feeling flustered during the all-important beginning of the interview.

Interview Attire

It is important that you pay particular attention to appropriate clothing attire. The general rule in the IT industry (at least for the interview) is to dress conservatively and professionally. For men, a well maintained modern suit with a conservative tie is ideal. Avoid all loud colors and distracting patterns. Plain color shirts, color-matched ties, and dark suits work best. Attention to detail such as wearing black polished business shoes and plain dark socks is also recommended.

Unless you are a color-coordination expert, dress on the side of conservatism. Remember that recruiters assess candidates for a living and can quickly assess inappropriate business attire. Do not make the mistake of distracting the interviewer with obvious fashion mistakes – anything that is loud, old or out of place could count against you.

Women have more options regarding appropriate interview dress. This can include many variations of colors, skirt or pants etc. But again the general safest rule is to think ‘corporate’. Overall, all candidates are advised to dress appropriately as discussed above, as well as for confidence and comfort. Essentially something that includes these factors and makes you feel good is ideal!

Body Language

Sitting with your arms crossed can be seen as an arrogant or defensive gesture, so try to avoid this. Likewise, for leg positions, both feet flat on the floor or the low cross, where your legs are crossed over at the ankles is a good option. Having your legs crossed higher up can be construed as a defensive or arrogant gesture. Alternatively, if this doesn’t feel natural to you, another option is to put your feet one in front of the other, with your back foot raised with only your toes touching the ground. This body language conveys a ‘ready for action’ stance.

If you are a person who uses their hands a lot while speaking, try to keep this to a minimum. This will not only distract the interviewer from your words but will break your eye contact. The less you use your arms and hands, the more powerful you will appear in the interview.

‘Mirroring’ the body language of the interviewer/s is also a good technique - as like people attract. If you reflect back the body language of the interviewer, you are more likely to make a positive impression and put them at ease.

Final Tips

  • Allow enough time to get to the interview so that you won’t arrive feeling stressed or hot and flustered. Aim to arrive 10 minutes early. If you have spare time, sit somewhere nearby to gather your thoughts, and reflect on the possible questions that you may be asked. If you are running late always ensure that the recruiter/ employer is notified, an apology extended, and an estimated time of arrival provided. If circumstance ‘beyond your control’ prevent you from getting to an interview or meeting on time, call earlier rather than later.
  • Take as little as possible with you. You don’t want to be fumbling around with folders, bags, and pens when the interviewer comes to greet you. One folio/satchel with a pen and paper, with any questions you may wish to answer, is ample.
  • When you greet the interviewer/s, always initiate the handshake, as it will make you appear confident and friendly. Make sure your handshake is strong and forthright and for as long as the interviewer shakes for.
  • Avoid tapping your feet, or shifting in the seat, which can reflect nervousness and apprehension.
  • Be prepared. The basis of preparation is performing in-depth research about the role and company well before the interview. You can often review the company via the internet or request more information from the recruiter before the interview. Your task is to find out as much as you can about the culture and goals of the organization, including the size, various locations, the type of people who may be employed there and in what capacities.

Looking and acting the part in an interview sends a strong message to a recruiter or potential employer that you will be able to perform on the job. Confidence, when coupled with your existing abilities, will make you a much stronger candidate than someone who on paper has the same or slightly more experience than you, but poor body language skills and image.

Organizations are now placing more emphasis on candidates with strong people skills - having the pre-requisite technical skills is not enough. Subconsciously, poor body language may equate in some interviewers minds with poor people skills and potentially poor work performance. In particular the more senior you become, the more likely it is that interviews and roles will center on your people skills. This is especially true at the high-income end of IT jobs. In fact, it’s one of the main factors that separate candidates in occupations such as Business Analysts and Project Managers, from the pack.

Most people under-sell themselves in interviews, seeing it as a competitive situation requiring fight or flight responses. Instead, we recommend that you practice projecting a strong confident image. Relax and try to make the most of this experience to highlight your skills, experience, and personal strengths. You may only get one chance to make an impression so make that opportunity count!

Introduction: Job Interviews

The authors of this article live and work in Melbourne, Australia in a major IT Recruitment Company, ADAPS. This article was created to rectify issues that our Client Managers experience with candidates who seem to have great technical skills but present poorly in interview situations.

This article accompanies other articles on TechCareers called Living and Working in Australia, as well as Behavioral Interview Techniques and Resume Tips. ADAPS aim is to expand our search (internationally) for highly skilled IT Professionals interested in moving to Australia for high paying IT contracts.