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The Most Important Interview Non-Verbals

Many interviews fail because of lack of proper communication. But communication is more than just what you say. Often it's the nonverbal communication that we are least aware of, yet speaks the loudest. Following are the top five nonverbals, ranked in order of importance, when it comes to interviewing:

  • Eye Contact - Unequaled in importance! If you have a habit of looking away while listening, it shows lack of interest and a short attention span. If you fail to maintain eye contact while speaking, at a minimum it shows lack of confidence in what you are saying and at a maximum may send the subtle indication that you may be lying. Don't just assume you have good eye contact. Ask. Watch. Then practice. Ask others if you ever lack proper eye contact. If they respond that they did notice, ask if it was during speaking or listening. Take note. Next, watch yourself on videotape. It doesn't necessarily have to be your mock interview videotape. In fact, if you were videotaped informally (that is, you were not aware you were being taped), this will typically provide even stronger evidence. Then sit down with a friend and practice until you are comfortable maintaining sincere, continuous eye contact.
  • Facial Expressions - It has continually amazed me when interviewing college students of the large number of people who were totally unaware of the sullen, bewildered, or even mildly hysterical expression plastered on their faces--often during the entire course of the interview! It's almost as if four years of college has left some students brain dead or worse. Some recruiters (not myself, of course) have been known to hang humorous labels on these students, such as "Ms. Bewildered" (who looked quizzical during the interview) or "Mr. Psycho-Ax-Murderer" (who looked wide-eyed and determined to do something, although you dare not ask what!). Take a good, long, hard look at yourself in the mirror. Look at yourself as others would. Then modify your facial expressions--first eliminate any negative overall characteristics that might exist, then add a simple feature that nearly every interviewee forgets--a smile! Not some stupid Bart Simpson grin, but a true and genuine smile that tells me you are a happy person and delighted to be interviewing with our company today. Think about it--who would you rather spend thirty minutes with?
  • Posture - Posture sends the signal of your confidence and power potential. Stand tall, walk tall, and most of all, sit tall. I don't say this to offend the "short people" of the world--in fact, I'm under 5'5", which is a full seven inches shorter than your proverbial 6-footer IBMer. It's a myth--I used to work for IBM along with several other "vertically challenged" people. Height is not what's important, posture is. And when you are seated, make sure you sit at the front edge of the chair, slightly leaning forward, intent on the subject at hand. Your best posture is to always be learning forward slightly, moving within an overall range of no more than 10 back or 20 forward.
  • Gestures - Contrary to popular belief, gestures should be very limited during the interview. So please don't use artificial gestures to supposedly heighten the importance of the issue at hand (pardon the pun). It will merely come off as theatrical. When you do use gestures, make sure they are sincere and meaningful.
  • Space - Recognize the boundaries of your personal space and that of others. If you are typical of most Americans, it will range between 30 and 36 inches. Be prepared, however, not to back up or move away from someone who has a personal space that is smaller than your own. Hang in there, take a deep breath, and stand your ground. For most of us, merely the awareness of our personal space is enough to consciously prompt us to stand firm. If you have a smaller than average personal space, make sure you keep your distance so that you don't intimidate someone who possesses a larger personal space.
  • P.S. If you really want to have fun at a social gathering, step inside the personal space boundary of a friend. With some practice, you can back them up around the entire room without them even being aware of what's happening. But beware. It can also happen to you.