It’s the day of the big interview. You’ve shown up 15 minutes early just to be safe. You’re relatively calm. You’re confident. After all, your suit and tie are pressed, your hair is trimmed and neat, and your breath is fresh and minty. You’ve done your research about the company, you know the first name of the secretary, and your briefcase gives you that professional look that’s needed in this competitive market. You can’t wait to show them what you’ve got. There is no question they can throw at you that you’re not prepared for. You’ve been practicing what to say with your friends, and they all agree that you’ve got it down pat. As long as you can get past that initial nonverbal test without blowing it, the job is yours.
The secretary (Wanda) says that the boss is ready for you now, and with a nod you enter the office. Here it comes. You must be very careful. The boss reaches out to welcome you, and – yes! – you’re there with a firm and friendly handshake. One pump and you’re done. Perfect. You take a deep breath. You’ve done it. You’ve passed the test. Now it’s in the bag. All that’s left is the talking. Easy. You’ve got the words to say, and all you have to do is say them. Right?
Wrong. For there is more to communicating than the words you say. Much more. In fact, the “words themselves, or the verbal component of any presentation, only account for a mere 7 percent” of the total impact you make when communicating (Market 13). The other 93 percent comes from the nonverbal components of communication, and in a job interview this includes much more than the handshake. Nonverbal communication is not something that can be taken care of up front and then set aside when it’s time to get down to business. 93 percent of the time it is your nonverbal communication that is taking care of business for you, and therefore it must be consistently controlled, and made to say what you want it to say, in order for you to communicate effectively. With this in mind, there are three main areas of nonverbal communication that you need to focus on and regulate during a job interview: 1.) Facial expression; 2.) Vocal expression; and 3.) Body movement.
If “a picture is worth a thousand words”, then your face is worth a million (Bohannon 22). For, no matter what words may be coming out of your mouth, your interviewer is going to be “listening” much more attentively to what he or she is “hearing” from your facial expression. Your face can be a tool used in conjunction with your message, or a rebel sending contrary signals to your listener. In order to avoid such rebellion it is important to know that “making eye contact is one of the key components of effective [facial expression]….Blinking, staring, or looking away whenever you begin speaking makes it hard for you to connect with your interviewer” (Bohannon 22). If your interviewer does not feel that he or she has a connection with you, he or she is much less likely to be open to trusting what you have to say. As Peter Guiliano, author of “Seven Benefits of Eye Contact,” puts it, “Poetically, [eye contact] builds a pathway to the soul. Less poetically, it keeps you from appearing shifty, which is inevitable if your eyes continually move their gaze” (104).
Another important element of facial expression is your smile. According to Lee McCoy, author of “First Impressions”, “Smiling can’t be overestimated in terms of the effect it has on interpersonal impression formation. When we smile, we tend to look more attractive and feel more positive. Even in a difficult discussion, a smile can be reassuring” (35). You must be careful, however, that you are smiling at the appropriate time, and that your smile is genuine. “Smiling at an inappropriate time or with a forced smile that does not reach your eyes tells the interviewer that you are not paying close attention,” which is often worse than if you’d remained stone-faced the entire time (Bohannon 22). By combining eye contact with smiling, you’ll be able to read your interviewer’s intentions more clearly, and avoid such mistakes.
So, now that you’re making the connection through the windows of your soul and flashing those pearly whites, can you get back to focusing on what you’ve prepared to say? Not yet. For, once again, nonverbal has risen its head to remind you that it’s not only what you say, but how you say it that determines how your message is received. This is where a few suggestions on proper vocal expression come in handy.
First, make sure that your vocal tone is clear and confident when speaking to your interviewer. As Lisa Frederiksen Bohannon states in her article, “Is Your Body Language On Your Side?”:
According to Bob Weinstein, author of eight books on careers,…“When you respond to an interviewer’s question in a tentative tone, your answer sounds like a question instead of a statement. This gives the interviewer the impression that you are unsure of yourself, or that you may be searching for what the interviewer wants to hear. (21)
Second, “modulate your voice, changing the rate of speech throughout the conversation for emphasis. Use inflection and moderate changes in pitch and volume to engage the listener’s attention” (More 18). Weinstein gives the dangers of not following this advice: “When you speak in a monotone voice, you leave the interviewer with the impression that you are not interested. Moreover, the interviewer may lose interest in what you’re saying” (Bohannon 21).
Third, choose a speed of delivery that fits the intended impression you wish to create. Dianna Booher, CEO of Booher Consultants, states the different messages different delivery speeds send:
When you speak slowly, listeners assume you’re choosing words carefully. A slower pace also underscores the message’s importance and gives the listener time to contemplate what you’re saying and determine the significance. Speaking fast creates interest and demands attention. The pace makes listeners work hard to hear and translate what you’re saying, and it eliminates the opportunity for their minds to wander. (36)
By becoming aware of these various benefits (and pitfalls), you can make sure that the words you’re saying are not only the right ones, but that they sound right, too.
Well, let’s see here. From the neck up you’re communicating quite clearly, and all appears to be going well. But what about what’s happening from your silk tie down? For good or bad, your body is sending a message. And while your face and voice are the most expressive weapons in your nonverbal arsenal, your body is the foundation upon which these others depend. In order to keep the foundation secure, there are three general guidelines to follow.
First, sit up straight. “Upright posture conveys confidence and courage. Slouching communicates uncertainty. In addition, straight posture makes us feel more energetic and appear likewise to others. Those who slouch seem worn-out and without any energy. Confidence and a sense of ‘can do’ is communicated when one [sits up] tall” (Buhler 25).
Second, sit still. While you may not be fully aware of the commotion your excessive body movement is creating, your listener certainly will be, and it will most likely be a distraction. “Sit still and erect, but relaxed….Don’t swivel, rock, lean, slump, or swing your legs. Don’t clasp your hands, fidget or grip your chair. Don’t drum on a chair or table with your fingers, jingle keys in your pockets, rustle papers, or toy with…pencils, water glasses and clothing” (Market 14).
Third, keep your hand gestures natural and minimal. “Don’t use flamboyant gestures. Using your hands to emphasize a point can be an effective tool, but keep hand movements to a
confined area, about the width of your body. Excessive gestures can be distracting or give the impression you are out of control” (More 19). Also, you need to be aware that there are some hand gestures (beyond the obvious) that can be perceived as negative. “Hands placed around the mouth tend to suggest that you’re unsure about what you’re saying” (McCoy 36). And, pointing your finger “is associated with disciplinarians and authority figures– such as a scolding from the elementary school principal or a reprimand from a boss. Most people are put off by a wagging finger in their faces” (Booher 38). So don’t do it.
In reference to his own experience as an interviewer, Robert M. Pepe, director of human resources at Co Steel Raritan, says, “I look for consistency between the verbal and nonverbal messages of an applicant or employee. When there is a contradiction, a ‘red flag’ goes up” (Arthur 22). Such ‘red flags’ often result in qualified applicants being sent away from an interview jobless. In order to keep yourself out of the ranks of these red-flag-waving job lookers, and into the company of clear-communicating job finders, you need to remember that both the verbal and nonverbal components of the communication process are crucial for success. In a job interview, as you have seen, the three areas of nonverbal communication to focus on are 1.) Facial expression; 2.) Vocal expression; and 3.) Body movement. If you concentrate on consistently regulating these three areas in cooperation with your verbal presentation, you will have a much greater chance of bagging that “sure thing.” So, go ahead and feel those palms slap together, relish that perfect pump, and then congratulate yourself on a hand well shook. You’ve conquered the first impression. Now, however, it’s time for the second, and the third, and the fourth, and the…
Arthur, Diane. “The Importance Of Body Language.” HR Focus.
Bohannon, Lisa Frederiksen. “Is Your Body Language On Your Side?” Career World.
Booher, Dianna. “Communicate With Confidence And Make Your Body Language Say The Right Thing.” Women In Business.
Buhler, Patricia. “Projecting A Positive Image.” Supervision.
Guiliano, Peter. “Seven Benefits Of Eye Contact.” Successful Meetings.
“Market Yourself Through Body Language.” Westchester County Business Journal.
McCoy, Lee. “First Impressions.” Canadian Banker.
“More Than Words Can Say: How Body Language Affects Your Ability To Communicate.” American Salesman.