The Morgan Samuels Perspective

10 Non-Verbal Interview Errors to Avoid

Posted by Morgan Samuels on Wed, Aug 21, 2013

Most of us have had a version of this experience at one time or another: You are perfect for the job. You’ve polished your resume to a high gloss, your references are glowing and you sail through the interview – prepared for every question.  You know you’re just what they’re looking for and… you don’t land the job.  What could possibly have gone wrong?

non verbal communication executive recruiter morgan samuelsThe truth is, you might have lost the job before you ever said anything, or even sat down in the chair.  “90% of communication is nonverbal,” or so the saying goes. Whether that percentage is accurate is debatable, but there’s no arguing that we are constantly conveying information about ourselves non-verbally, and we’re often not aware of it.  A recent article on lists, “10 Body Language Mistakes That Could Cost You The Job.” As the author of the article puts it:

You may be the most qualified candidate—but forget to smile, slouch in your chair or fail to make eye contact during the interview, and you could be out of the running.

The bottom line is, despite your best efforts to the contrary, you might have sabotaged your own chances of being hired without realizing it.   

Think about it: We make all kinds of decisions all day long based on non-verbal cues we’re picking up from other people. Have you ever crossed the street because someone coming toward you makes you feel uncomfortable for some reason?  Do you smile at a perfect stranger because they appear friendly?  Self-defense students are taught that criminals target those who appear vulnerable simply based on how they behave.  In the age of the 24-hour news cycle and omnipresent cameras, body language can make or break politicians (think of a recent awkwardly executed sip of water that nearly derailed a rising career). The same is true of business leaders and TV news anchors (for a hilarious and poignant example of this, see the 1987 movie Broadcast News). Examples of the influence of body language are endless and its importance cannot be overstated.

The Forbes article lists these 10 gaffes as potential deal-breakers and our executive recruiters agree:

  1. Weak handshake – If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a limp fish, you’ll know how it made you feel.
  2. Invading personal space – As Sting said, “Don’t stand so close to me.”
  3. Crossing your arms – You are literally closing yourself off when you do this, and you appear closed off, unapproachable, or defensive to the interviewer.
  4. Playing with your hair – This is a bad habit that reads as immature.
  5. Bad posture – Your mother was right! Sit up straight in that chair! It will make you look (and feel) more confident and in control.
  6. Lack of eye contact – This can come across as nervousness, shyness, or shiftiness. Don’t stare at the interviewer, of course, but a few seconds of unbroken eye contact will make you appear more confident.
  7. Looking like you’re not interested – Appearing distracted, unfocused, or bored will not inspire anyone to want to add you to their team.
  8. Not smiling – Sure, they want you to take the job seriously, but they also want to hire someone who will be pleasant and friendly to work with. Not smiling can come across as cold, harsh, or even untrustworthy.
  9. Fidgeting – Another habit that can make you seem scattered or insecure.
  10. Hiding your hands – This can make you come across like you have something to hide (literally and metaphorically). 

So, how do you not let your body betray you in an interview situation? The first step is
– become aware of your habits. Ask your friends and family members (or your executive recruiter!) their candid opinions on how you come across non-verbally.  Become conscious of your body language and notice how it makes you feel to sit up straighter, to give a firmer handshake, to allow your hands to be more still. It’s amazing how adopting the behaviors of confident people can actually increase your own sense of confidence.  Try maintaining eye contact versus looking away frequently and see how each makes you feel.

The second step is to practice. Before you go in for a real, high-stakes interview, conduct a mock interview with someone you trust and have them give you honest feedback. Morgan Samuels consultants conduct extensive interview preparation with our candidates to help them put their best foot forward. Watch movies and TV shows and observe how powerful, confident characters carry themselves and try incorporating some of those behaviors in your daily life.

The bottom line? As executive recruiters, we concur that straight posture, sustained eye contact, a firm handshake, and a smile can do more to convey confidence than the most eloquent interview response. If you don’t pay attention to this element of communication, you are leaving a very important factor to chance.


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Topics: executive recruiter, non-verbal communication, marketing