Tech & Work

Body language dos and don'ts for interviews

You've got your interview spiel down pat. The author of a new book about body language says that it isn't just what you say that matters.

I know, I know. This interviewing thing is a tough business. As if it isn't stressful enough to have to watch what comes out of your mouth, now you have to watch what your body is indirectly conveying.

There's a new book on the market that talks about the psychological implications of body language in the business world. Though it boasts perhaps the longest title I've ever seen in my life — What Your Body Says (and how to master the message): Inspire, Influence, Build Trust, and Create Lasting Business Relationships — this book by Sharon Sayler makes some good points about how certain physical gestures can give the wrong impression about you.

The physical gestures Sayler talks about in her book are not always obvious. That is to say, most sane people know that an interviewer isn't likely to respond favorably if you walk into an interview doing Rockette kicks. But did you know that merely standing with your hands behind your back can be misinterpreted?

Hands behind the back. According to Sayler, the hands-behind-the-back stance can be interpreted as meaning, "Geez, I hope you like me," or "You better fear me." This is one point I'm not sure I agree with. First, I'm confused at how one gesture can convey two extreme meanings. I also think it depends on the circumstance. If I'm showing a job candidate around the office, this stance would that a person is really listening to me. Forego the pockets. Sayler does warn against putting your hands in your pockets. If you have your thumbs hanging off the pockets, for example, you're saying "Geez, I hope you like me." If your hands are deep in your pockets jingling change, your unconscious message could be "I'm nervous" or "I'm bored. When is this thing going to be over with?" Don't cross your arms. She reiterates what is fairly common among body language experts and that arms crossed in front of you indicate that you're not open to discussion or that you're annoyed.

So do you put your hands on your hips? Sayler says that this gesture can be interpreted differently depending on the circumstance. After an interview, it could convey to an employer that you're ready to meet the challenges ahead. But during a difficult meeting with a client, however, it could convey annoyance.

But if the hips and the back and the pockets are out, just where do you put your hands? Sayler suggests just leaving your arms at your sides. She recognizes that this make take practice for people for whom some gestures are unconscious. You can prepare for this by watching yourself during conversations and note when the gestures happen. That way, you can consciously try to avoid them.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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