At the TEDGlobal 2012 conference, Harvard Business School social psychologist Amy Cuddy gave a twenty-minute talk that has since then been viewed almost 25 million times.
She argues that our lives are closely linked to our body language. We all use body language – significant non-verbal actions and lack of actions – as the “reasoning” behind sweeping judgements about others. This can happen during job interviews, networking events, and even regular interactions with peers. Your body language can be as important as what you say.
Handshakes have become the default professional greeting. Almost anyone would cringe if they offered a handshake that was not returned. During a job interview, not extending a hand upon meeting your interviewer could affect your job prospects.
A handshake is a professional gesture that says you are interested in meeting them. Even if your gesture is not returned, you at least made the effort. Make sure you exert just enough pressure – don’t crush their hand, but don’t give them a limp handshake either.
Slouching is not only bad for your back, it may also wrinkle your work clothes and send a negative message: that you’re not alert, disinterested, or not energetic.
In an interview, never let the hiring manager think for a second that you may not be up to the job. Keep your back straight — but not ramrod straight, which looks unnatural — when you’re waiting to be called into the interview room. Your potential colleagues are walking by, and you do not want your first fleeting impression to be a negative one. Your posture should also be straight during the interview. It makes you look alert and focused. If you unsure about how your posture looks, sit in front of a mirror or ask a friend for feedback.
Think about the last time you crossed your arms. Were you happy? You may not have verbally indicated that you are displeased, but crossing your arms tells the world that you are unhappy, closed-off, and not a good person to collaborate with. If you don’t look approachable, no one will think you are approachable.
There is no solution to this other than to resist the urge to cross your arms. Be aware of how they are positioned. If you are unhappy about something, try your best to not let it bleed into your professional life. Give yourself a quick break to regain calmness, so that when you rejoin your colleagues they will be less likely to sense anything is wrong.
You may not realize it but you may be fidgeting right now as you read this. Are you tapping your fingers on the desk? Are you playing with your hair? Are you twirling your pen? These are all examples of fidgeting. This can give someone the impression that you are bored or nervous. The image you want to project to a potential employer should be the exact opposite: confident and focused.
Fidgeting can be a difficult habit to break because a lot of it subconscious. You don’t realize you’re doing it until you’ve already started. If that is the case with you, then make sure you don’t fidget at specific instances, like job interviews. A hiring manager may see fidgeting as lack of self-control or an annoying distraction. If possible, put the object you fidget with physically away from you. This is not always possible: for example, if you fidget with your hair, tie it back or braid it so it is not accessible.
Avoiding eye contact
It is common courtesy to look at someone in the eye when they are talking to you. Not doing so may give the impression that you are not interested. During a job interview, this kind of body language may tell the interviewer that you have something to hide, even though you may be speaking the complete truth.
This has a simple fix: maintain eye contact. You do not want to be staring down the interviewer, at that can be interpreted as intimidating. But you also don’t want to be looking away all the time. It’s okay to let your eyes stray a little bit, to the other person’s shoulder or something that they’re gesturing to – but for the majority of the conversation, make sure your eyes are focused on them. Practise with a friend who can offer honest comments on your eye contact.
Body language can be difficult to correct, especially if you are unaware you are doing something negative in the first place. Speak to a supervisor or a close colleague and ask for some honest feedback. You may be surprised by what they say!