You Can Say Too Much Without Even Speaking

by | March 10, 2009

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Can a shrug mean too much?

No matter what a job candidate might say, using the wrong body language can make them appear disinterested or even deceitful to recruiters.

"It's so important for people to be cognizant of their body language because while their words may be saying one thing, their body language may be saying something else," says Kimberly Bishop, senior partner of Korn Ferry International, a Los Angeles-based retained executive search firm.

Learning how your body language may be perceived can prevent you from committing body language blunders that can sabotage interviews. Carole Martin, president of in San Francisco says her clients are stunned by their body language when they watch their recorded mock interviews. After she points out their mistakes, some say "I wouldn't hire me," says Ms. Martin. However, once aware of their body language, she says about 80% correct it on their second taping.

Here are some tips on getting your body language right in an interview.

1. Maintain the right amount of eye contact.

Using too little or too much eye contact can impact a recruiter's perception of you. If you avoid eye contact after being asked a question, or you look down, it can suggest dishonesty, says David Moyer, president of Moyer, Sherwood Associates, a retained executive search firm in New York.

Ms. Bishop says many candidates look to the right or left of the interviewer or out the windows instead of making eye contact which can indicate disinterest or lack of confidence. To show a recruiter you are interested, alternate looking at their eyes mouth and shoulders, says Martin Yate, author of "Knock 'Em Dead The Ultimate Job Search Guide 2007" and a former headhunter in Savannah, Ga.

However, be careful not to overdo the eye contact. Some job hunters concentrate on maintaining eye contact too much that they develop a "stalker stare," says Tonya Reiman, a body language expert in Smithtown, N.Y. who works with recruiters and job hunters.

"People who don't break from eye contact enough give me the willies," says Mr. Moyer.

2. Don't fidget.

Fidgeting is a telltale sign of nerves, and although many recruiters make allowances for nervousness, they will also expect you to handle pressure with ease if you're seeking a high-level job. If you display your nerves too much during an interview, you may be at a disadvantage. "If you can't handle stress in a job interview, how can you handle it in the job?" asks Mr. Yate.

Aside from displaying your nervousness, fidgeting is annoying and distracting to recruiters.

Ms. Martin, who conducts interviews for client companies, remembers a candidate who played with her hair throughout the entire interview. "I wanted to grab her arm and tell her to stop," say Ms. Martin. "I probably didn't hear half of what she was saying because she was annoying me so much."

Although everyone has their own personal fidgets, the key is to control them during interviews so they don't distract your interviewer. To keep yourself from fidgeting, Mr. Yate recommends bringing a prop, such as a pen and pad, to keep your hands occupied.

Curtis Muldrew, 41, says he learned how to stop twisting and untwisting his pen during interviews by only touching his pen when taking notes. "Interviews are events where I really have to practice because my movements can be distracting to the interviewer," says Mr. Muldrew, chief information officer of HeartScreen America, a large population and direct-to-consumer heart screening services company in Andover, Mass.

3. Be conscious of posture while standing and sitting.

Slouching, whether you are standing to greet the interviewer or sitting down, suggests a lack of self esteem, says Mr. Yate. During an interview you should appear confident and engaged in the conversation and poor posture can send a message that you are indifferent or too casual message, says Ms. Bishop.

When Jim Ettwein, 59, began interviewing with companies after being a self-employed consultant, he reminded himself during interviews to sit up straight and lean slightly forward to show interest. "I have a tendency to sit sideways in a chair by using the back of the chair as a prop," says Mr. Ettwein, who began working as a partner at a large consulting firm in West Orange, N.J. in the beginning of January.

To appear interested in the position, Mr. Yate suggests sitting with your backside at the very back of the chair which will create a slight lean forward, showing that you are engaged in the conversation. Remember to keep your shoulders back.

4. Avoid "closed" body language.

Body language such as crossed arms and clenched fists show defensiveness and tension, says Mr. Yate, who adds that they are physically closed positions.

Mr. Moyer refers to crossed arms as "the universal sign of unfriendliness," because it suggests that the candidate doesn't want to open up. Women tend to cross their arms when they are cold, says Ms. Martin, who suggests bringing a cardigan or dressing warmly if you tend to get cold so you don't inadvertently send the wrong message.

Crossing your ankle over your knee with hands locked behind your head in what Mr. Yate calls the "rebel without a cause" look can make you look like unruly or difficult to work with, he says. "It's the way an angry 17-year-old sits," says Mr. Yate.

Instead, sit with your ankles crossed or feet flat on the floor and use open hand gestures which suggest friendliness, he says.

Filed Under: Interviewing

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