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How to Maintain the Right Posture for a Job Interview

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words.   In a job interview, body language is worth an entire feature- length film.

According to research by L. Huang and associates, of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and published in Psychological Science,  your posture speaks volumes about whether you are a take-charge, in-control person–or a “yes” man or woman. This research validates what I have been teaching for many years in my career development courses:  how you sit or stand produces behavioral changes in you and the people around you.

For example, if you take up a lot of space when you sit, messages are sent to your brain that make you feel more powerful.  Subsequently, those around you also perceive you to be more authoritative and powerful.

But body posture alone isn’t the only thing that can help (or hurt) you in a job interview.  Here are some body language tips to help you non-verbally ace the interview…

1.        Sit up straight.  Do what your mama told you, and don’t slouch.  Slouching portrays lack of interest, lack of confidence and a poor work ethic.

2.        Make – and maintain – eye contact.  I’ve had mock job interviews with clients who would look down at the floor, up at the ceiling, out the window, or at my desk when answering interview questions.  Making eye contact shows that you have confidence and, perhaps more important, that you are honest.   But here’s a caveat to eye contact:  hold it for too long, and you come off as creepy;  if you don’t hold it long enough, you come off as “shifty” and non-trustworthy.

So, what’s an interviewee to do?  As a general rule, maintain eye contact with someone for at least four seconds before looking away.  If you don’t want to have to count “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two…” in your head  until you get to four seconds, just look at the person’s eyes long enough to know what color they are—that’s about three to four seconds.

3.       Lean forward.  If you lean in as the other person is speaking, it shows interest.  When you lean forward as you answer your questions, it shows enthusiasm.

4.       Don’t move around when you are being asked a question.  This tip comes from my days as a jury consultant.  If you move around as you are being asked a question,  you send the impression that you are uncomfortable with the question, and are literally “squirming.”   The same holds true for taking a sip of coffee or water:  don’t do it while you are being asked a question.  If you need to shift your body weight, or take a sip of water, do it after you have answered  the question–and just before the interviewer asks another question.

5.       Use animated facial expressions.  Often someone will demonstrate appropriate and enthusiastic body language, but have a stone-cold facial expression throughout the interview.  Smile throughout the interview.  Also, open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the “eyebrow flash” — the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.  The eyebrow flash builds rapport quickly, and enhances your likeability factor.

6.       Master the art of the handshake.  Such a simple act can go wrong in so many ways!  Have you ever had a bone-crushing handshake?  How about that was wimpy?  Or one where the person wouldn’t let go of your hand?

The first thing to master in the handshake is timing.  Wait until the introduction is finished before extending your hand.  If you extend your hand too quickly, the perception is that you’re like a bad used car salesman—pushy, and a bad listener.

Next, deliver the handshake with a smile and eye contact.  Make the grip firm, but not bone-crushing.

Finally, start and stop the handshake crisply.  It should be no longer than three seconds, and no more than three pumps of the arm.

Of course, landing a job also requires that you have the skills, experience, and attitude for the position.  But tweaking your body language can help start the interview off on the right foot, and increase rapport with your interviewer.


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