In Job Interviews, Body Language Louder than Verbal Language

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man scratches his head There’s an old maxim that says, “It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.” Well, in a job interview it can be twisted around to, “It’s not what you say. It’s how your body talks.” What you do with your body during a job interview can totally eliminate whatever verbal language you use.

A blog post at says, “Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of “Silent Messages,” conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found that 7 percent of any message is conveyed through words, 38 percent through certain vocal elements, and 55 percent through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc).  Subtracting the 7 percent for actual vocal content leaves one with the 93 percent statistic.

In an interview at, Patti Wood, a body language expert and author of “Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma,” said, A candidate can give out thousands of non-verbal cues within the first minute of meeting a hiring manager, and those messages make more of an impact than the words that you use during the interview. Our body language says a lot about who we are and our emotional state, and poor body language often sends a message that we are stressed or fearful.”

Wood offered these suggestions:

  • A firm handshake It’s something lots of people don’t practice. A cold fish, as well as a death grip, are both going to send the wrong signal. Be firm but gentle.
  • Don’t cross your arms – Speak with your hands instead. Crossing your arms suggests a person is either defensive or uncomfortable
  • Twirl your locks Keep your hands away from your hair. Makes a woman look like a little girl when she does that.
  • Hiding your hands As Woods says, speak with your hands but in controlled gestures. Flailing wildly about is not a good idea unless you’re an orchestra conductor.
  • Don’t fidget Woods says, “Don’t touch your face, play with change in your pocket or bite your nails. Fidgeting is a distraction and a sign of anxiety.” offers this advice from an article on job interview body language:

  1. Eye Contact: Maintain frequent though intermittent eye contact. Sense the comfort level of the manager and give them slightly more than equal eye contact.
  2. Posture: Sit up right but in a relaxed way where your shoulders drop naturally and your back is straight but not flexed backwards.
  3. Angles: Direct your shoulders so that you are facing the manager. You do not want to suggest avoidance but openness.
  4. Leaning: You don’t want to be a statue nor lean in aggressively. Lean in fluidly when appropriate but always return to a natural sitting position.
  5. Hands and Feet: Find a few comfortable poses before the interview that suggest you are engaged but not aggressive. The more relaxed they are the better, so feet should be flat on the floor (if possible) and hands should be in a neutral state unless speaking. When you do speak, your gesticulation should be natural and used sparingly.

Susan M. Heathfield, an expert on human resources at, says, “If you want to mask your feelings or your immediate reaction to information, pay close attention to your nonverbal behavior. You may have your voice and words under control, but your body language including the tiniest facial expressions and movement can give your true thoughts and feelings away. Especially to a skilled reader of nonverbal cues, most of us are really open books.”

Heathfield offers a link to a quiz on non-verbal communication from the University of California at Santa Cruz that could help you practice your skills. Take it and see how good you are at reading others non-verbal skills. It could help you refine your own.

By Keith Griffin