“Tell me about yourself.”

“What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced at work?”

“So, where do you see yourself in five years?”

When prepping for a big interview it’s natural to spend a lot of time practicing your answers to these common questions. While the words you choose are important, in an interview it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Ninety-three percent of what we convey to others is through non-verbal cues and body language, not words. What statement is your body language making?

Even if you think you’re coming off as confident and capable in your interview answers, your body language could be sending a different message. For example, I recently worked with a company that passed on a highly qualified candidate because this individual failed to make any eye contact during the entire interview. Maintaining steady eye contact is an interview essential, yet it’s still something many of us still struggle with during pressure-filled situations.

Perhaps you’re so anxious about making a positive first impression or nervous about tough questions you don’t realize you’re looking down at the table, tapping your foot, playing with your hair or crossing your arms. Unfortunately, no matter how prepared you are for the interview, these negative body language cues project the opposite message, or worse, send a signal that you’re being dishonest about your credentials and experience.

Early in my career, I worked with body language expert Janine Driver. Janine helped me bring awareness to my own body language and make subtle shifts that took my interview skills from good to great. Today, I’m passionate about coaching and prepping my candidates on nonverbal communication best practices. By bringing awareness to your body language habits, you can speak with confidence and conviction, too. Here’s how:

Goal: Project confidence

Solution: Keep your body open.
When you cross your arms or legs, you appear closed off, reserved and insecure. Instead, keep your body open. Smiling while talking and place your hands palm-faced up and open on your lap projects confidence.

Goal: Demonstrate honesty.

Solution: Maintain eye contact and watch your head movements.

Even if you are being completely truthful in your answers, failing to maintain eye contact or subtly nodding your head “no” when you speak sends the opposite message. Try to keep your attention focused on the interviewer’s face and avoid looking down at the ground or off into space when answering a question.

Goal: Convey enthusiasm.

Solution: Be an active listener.
While it’s important to maintain eye contact, you don’t want to stare at the interviewer either. If multiple people are interviewing you, ensure you’re staying focused on the person speaking. Lean your body in slightly and occasionally nod your head while your interviewer speaks. Mirror the interviewer’s body language: this subtly signals to the interviewer that you’re engaged and enthusiastic about the position.

Before a big interview, practice with a friend and ask for feedback on nonverbal cues. Did you maintain steady eye contact or play with your hair? Give your friend the “Dos and Don’ts” checklist and ask them to note you gestures. Your nonverbal behaviors may be so ingrained that you don’t even realize you’re doing them!

Finally, get in the habit of “checking-in” with yourself during the interview. For example, if you know that you struggle with eye contact, make a mental note to refocus on the speaker and practice active listening.

How do you stay confident and engaged during an interview? I invite you to share your best practices in the comments below.

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