8 body language hacks for job interviews

Your body speaks louder than your words

Research studies show that non-verbal communication has about 4 times the impact of verbal communication. In the infamous studies led by Professor Albert Mehrabian, the impact of non-verbal cues is 13 times of spoken words. When you are preparing your next interview, what you tell your interviewers is not as important as the non-verbal forms of communication, such as eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, postures, and other sensory cues.

This is your body language. We use it all the time, mostly subconsciously or unconsciously, to express what we truly think and feel. Sometimes you try to impress your interviewers by saying that you have extensive experience on building React apps. But you unknowingly touch your nose or use your hand to cover your mouth briefly when you say this. An experienced interviewer knows that you are lying, or you are not as confident as what you have said.

It’s not about what you say. It’s about how you look when you say it.

According to a research study conducted by Monster.co.uk, interviewers have already made the hiring decision in the first 6:25 minutes, no matter it is a 30-minute or a 2-hour interview. So what can be done to improve your chance of being hired, even before you’ve got a chance to say anything important in the first few minutes of an interview? In the next sections, I will share with you 8 body language hacks that are applicable to face-to-face job interviews, based on my personal interviewing experience.

We use body language all the time, mostly subconsciously or unconsciously

1. Mirror your interviewer

You may notice that we are always trying to mimic others’ behaviors. Long-term couples look alike, talk alike, and act alike. It is our instinct to mimic the behaviors, the outlooks, and everything of our peers. This is because we like people who look and act like us. We try to mimic others, hoping that others would like us.

In fact, we have a dedicated part in our brain that is responsible for mirroring unconsciously. If you mirror your interviewer, it would give your interviewer a sense of being accepted, and it would create a bonding between you and your interviewer. However, your mirror neurons only work when you or your interviewer really like the other party. You have to do mirroring consciously in order to influence your interviewer positively.

If your interviewer tilts his/her head, do the same as if you are seeing yourself in a mirror. If he/she is leaning in left, you lean in left. If he/she speaks fast, you speak fast. But don’t let your interviewer be aware of what you are doing. Otherwise, it is not mirroring, but mimicry, which is insulting. The objective is to influence the subconscious mind of your interviewer.

It’s easier said than done. The problem is, it takes quite some amount of brain power to observe your interviewer during an interview and listening closely to what he/she says. When I apply this technique for the first time, I found myself not able to concentrate on listening. When I did listen, I was not able to observe and mirror. It took me a few more practices before I can master this skill.

Mirroring influence your interviewer positively

2. Lean in toward your interviewer

When your interviewer talks, lean forward a little. This expresses you are interested in what your interviewer is saying, and you are paying attention. In contrast, leaning back suggests boredom or lack of interest. Leaning forward is considered a positive body language, because people typically (unconsciously) lean into a conversation when they like someone. But be aware not to overdo it. Leaning forward too much can be problematic as it seems you are faking your sincerity or you are threatening your interviewer.

You may tilt your head a little. This gives your interviewer the feeling that you are listening carefully. Nod your head occasionally to create a positive atmosphere between you and your interviewer.

Leaning in toward your interviewer

3. Don’t touch your nose or speak with your mouth covered

People unconsciously touch their nose when they feel uncomfortable with what they are saying. Touching the nose relieve the stress they are experiencing. What causes a person feel so uncomfortable and stressed? That’s when the person is doubting oneself, not confident about what one is saying, or even lying. Experienced interviewers know this. They think that you are a dishonest candidate.

Covering your mouth is even worst. Our brain unconsciously thinks that by covering the mouth, no one will notice that we are lying. Because lying is an act that requires much brain power for imagination, it turns our body into an unconscious state and you won’t even notice that you are covering your mouth.

You won’t be able to notice and prevent yourself from touching your nose or mouth during an interview because of the anxiety. Starting observing the body language of yourself today, avoid any negative gestures while you are talking. Ask your friends if they notice any of your body language. Ask them to stop you once they notice it. With some practice, you can eliminate most of these bad habits.

Be aware that covering the mouth doesn’t always mean someone is lying. When someone going to say something that one expects no one will agree, or when someone disagree with you but they don’t say it, they will also cover their mouth.

Remember, body language cues come as clusters. We have to observe groups of these cues before making a conclusion. And, body language isn’t always accurate if someone is well trained to avoid being observed, e.g. the Presidents.

People unconsciously cover their mouths when they are not telling the truth

4. Sit with an open posture

Despite a high intelligence we have, sometimes we behave stupidly and unconsciously due to our animal instinct. When we feel open to someone or some ideas, or we feel positive about someone or we like someone, we will post our body in an open posture. We feel open mentally and physically at the same time.

In contrast, when we disagree, or when we are aggressive or protective, we close our body, physically. We will close our hands across our chest, and maybe cross our legs.

Interestingly, the reverse of this phenomenon is also true. When we physically open or close our body, we respectively feel more open or close mentally. During an interview, if we cross our arms, we will start feeling negative about what the interviewer is saying, and we may start arguing with the other party. So try to open your body as much as possible. Don’t block your chest with your hands. Don’t sit with your legs crossed. You will become more agreeable, and your interviewer will feel the same.

Sometimes you notice that your interviewer crosses his/her arms. This is a bad sign. He/she may not agree with what you are saying. Or it could be just his/her habit to cross the arms but as I said before, closing the body physically influences the mind correspondingly. Never mirror a closed posture. You should think of something to let your interviewer open his/her arms. Maybe you can ask for a cup of water, so the interviewer has to go out and probably get back to you and sit with another posture. Or, you can ask your interviewer something, and let him/her speaks. People typically move their hands while talking. A closed posture may become open unconsciously.

Left: An open posture. Right: A closed posture.

5. Schedule an interview after your interviewers are well fed

Some people believe that the post-lunch time slot is the worst time of day for interviews. A survey by Glassdoor also suggests that we should avoid any post-lunch meetings. Surprising, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate, shows us an opposite recommendation in his best-selling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow:

Tired and hungry judges tend to fall back on the easier default position of denying requests for parole.

In other words, if you are asked for available time slots for an interview, do suggest a time after your interviewers are well fed, e.g. right after lunch or breakfast. Never do it just before lunch or near the end of the day, when interviewers usually feel hungry or tired.

According to Professor Kahneman, thinking consumes a lot of brain energy. That’s why we have 2 systems in our brain — System 1, which produces fast and energy efficient thinking; and System 2, which produces slow and high energy consumption thinking. System 1 makes decision based on experiences, feelings and instincts. It is fast but error prone, and cannot handle complicated situations accurately such as hiring decisions. System 2, on the other hand, is capable of processing difficult tasks including logical analysis and complex computations.

The human brain is hard-wired not to make the best decisions, but to make decisions with the least effort. That is, the brain prefers to use System 1. We can change this consciously to use System 2 to make better decisions if we are in a high-energy state. Therefore, during an interview just before lunch when interviewers are in a low-energy state, System 2 will just shut down and System 1 will kick in. What will System 1 decide? The easiest decision is always the default — rejecting the candidate.

From my personal experience, scheduling an interview after lunch has several advantages. First, interviewers are more likely to agree with what you say and accept what you request. Second, interviewers tend to think positively about you. Third, because of availability of System 2, interviewers are more interested in you and think really carefully about hiring you.

Never schedule a meeting when the other party is hungry

6. Talk about your weakness before your strength

Toward the end of an interview, do talk about your strength. If you are asked what your weaknesses are, do it but do show what you are good at after it. People remember the beginning and the end of events, but forget almost everything in between.

This is the so-called Peak-End Theory. In the TED talk Professor Kahneman suggests that people remember:

  • The start of an experience, but not that much
  • The peak times in an experience, the best and worst moments
  • The end of an experience, the lasting feeling

So if the last point you make in an interview is about your weakness, all your interviewer can remember is your weakness.

Very often you will be asked if you have any questions. So, alternatively, you can ask your interviewer for more about the job, deeper questions about the company, about the company culture, and about the people there. This shows you are passionate about the job, as the lasting feeling for your interviewer. Similar to the peak-end rule, the Recency Effect suggests that people remember the end of an event the best. That’s why the end of an interview is much more important than you may think.

Never tell your weakness at the very end of an interview

7. Hide something good about you and reveal it only when asked

In his book, Surfing Uncertainty, Andy Clark suggests that our brain continuously predicts the future based on past events. However, very often human is considered as poor predictors because our brain could be a Bayesian one. If this is true, that means it makes predictive decisions based on limited available information of past events. Usually we don’t have all the information necessary for making a prediction of any degree of accuracy. And studies found that our brain can only consider at most 4 factors at the same time.

How can we exploit such a terrible predictor? By always being able to make more and more good points about yourself when the interviewer asks you. Assume you have 10 good points that worth mentioning in an interview. Do actively talk about the first eight. Leave at least 2 points unrevealed. From my personal experience, there are chances near at the end of the interview, your interviewer will try to learn more about you by asking more questions. This is the time when you can naturally talk about the last one or two points. Because human is a natural predictor, even in the case that the sample size is one only, your interviewer will subconsciously assume that if he/she ask one more question, you will reveal one more strength. This leaves a positive lasting feeling for your interviewer.

As the human brain perceives events as trends. They make predictions based on the perceived trends regardless of the sample size and the expected accuracy. Interviewees can improve the chance of being hired by structuring the interview in a way that there is an increasing trend of positive atmosphere between the two parties.

Hide some of your strengths and reveal them only when asked

8. Let your interviewers imagine hiring you

At last, it is near the end of the interview. You are asked if you have any questions. Of course you do. One of the best questions you must ask your interviewer is,

If I were to be hired, what do you expect me to be in a month, six months and a year?

Well, I don’t care what the answer will be. The objective here is to force the interviewer imagine a picture of you working at the company, helping colleagues, improving revenue, etc. Your interviewer is forced to think of ways that you can fit into the company. So now the interviewer does have reasons how you can be a good fit! This imagination becomes a memory for your interviewer, which in turn influences his/her subconscious mind to think more about how you can contribute to the company in a positive way.

Technically, the skill I describe here is called Priming. If the interviewer sees more, hears more, thinks more about the positive side of you, he/she will eventually think even more about it. Personally I love to ask this question in interviews because it is effortless to ask, and it is the job of the interviewer to answer it. It’s like you are asking someone to influence oneself that favor you.

Imagination influences us subconsciously

Body language isn’t rocket science. You don’t need a psychology degree to understand it or to communicate effectively. What you need to improve your chance of being hired is to observe and practice the above hacks. Practice with your friends, families and colleagues, any time at a bar, home and office.

If you are interested in learning more about how psychology influences our mind irrationally, here are some quick findings that help you ace your interview. Applying these tips in an interview require much more preparations though.

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