Use Nonverbal Cues to Ace Your Interview

Most people know that a successful job interview relies on you having great answers to the interview questions an employer asks. If you’re job hunting, you’ve probably taken some time to research potential questions, come up with impressive answers, and even practiced giving them—either by yourself or in a mock interview format.


But how much time have you spent practicing your nonverbal communication?

During a job interview, what you don’t say can be just as important as what you do. Everyone reads into nonverbal cues while they’re having conversations with other people, even if they don’t realize they’re doing it. Hiring managers often give deliberate consideration to what you’re communicating without words, and factor nonverbal responses into their hiring considerations.

How important are nonverbal cues?

Your body language, presentation, and other non-spoken forms of communication play a definite role in the impression you make, but do you need to achieve nonverbal perfection? Some studies claim that body language and “paralanguage,” which is the subtext or intonation of responses, are even more important than verbal content.

Fortunately, most hiring managers don’t believe they are body language experts, and they expect job candidates to be somewhat nervous. A few nonverbal slips won’t guarantee that you never get hired. However, good nonverbal communication will give you an advantage over candidates who offer strong verbal responses, but tell a different story with their body language.

Nonverbal basics: The sensory experience

People have five senses, and they use almost all of them when interacting with others. Taste doesn’t come into play during a job interview, so we’ll focus on the remaining four.

  • Sight: This is the sense most job candidates already have covered. You want to look your best for an interview, with professional clean clothing, good grooming, and an overall polished appearance.
  • Smell: Of course, you’ll want to be clean and wearing deodorant for your interview. But you should also avoid wearing unpleasant or overpowering cologne or perfume. If you’re not sure whether the fragrance will offend, don’t wear it. And if you smoke, don’t have a cigarette once you’re dressed in your interview clothes—keep in mind that nonsmokers can smell smoke, even when you can’t. Finally, bring breath spray or strips (not gum) with you and freshen your breath just before the interview.
  • Touch: Here, it’s the handshake you should concern yourself with. Sweaty palms make an unpleasant experience, so avoid clenching your hands while waiting for the interview—and keep a tissue or two in your pocket to unobtrusively blot your hands, if needed.
  • Hearing: Volume matters in an interview. Try to practice speaking evenly and clearly—not too loud, and not too soft.

Advanced nonverbal cues

Once you’ve got the basics covered, it’s time to tackle the advanced topics. These can take a little work, so consider practicing in a mirror or with a friend to make sure you’ve gotten the hang of it.

  • Eye contact: This can be a balancing act. You don’t want to end up either staring directly at the hiring manager for the whole interview, or avoiding eye contact all together. Hold your gaze for a few seconds at a time, especially when either you or the interviewer is making an important point.
  • Posture: Leaning back casually in your chair communicates apathy, while propping yourself on the interviewer’s desk is extremely overeager. Sit up straight (don’t slouch!) and lean forward slightly to convey interest without invading anyone’s personal space.
  • Emotion: During an interview, calm and matter-of-fact is your best bet. You can also be (reasonably) passionate in discussing how much you love what you do, or why you’re great for this job. But avoid getting heated and angry if, for example, you’re discussing a bad experience at another job. On the other hand, inappropriate laughter can be detrimental too. Smile and nod when appropriate, and feel free to laugh if the hiring manager starts first.

With a little information and practice, you can use nonverbal cues that will help you make a great impression on hiring managers and land the job you want. Check out our other blogs for more interview advice or contact a recruiter to learn more!

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