What Body Language Says in an Interview

You can learn a lot about an interviewer by observing their body posture and gestures, and an interviewer can also learn a lot about you, because 55% of communication is nonverbal.

When I was a hiring manager I tried to be conscious of my body language in interviews, and I watched the gestures closely of those I interviewed.

We learn to control and mask our facial cues more than any other part of our body, so the most unmasked, truthful body language is observed at the extremities. 

Below are some body language considerations to take note of while interviewing.

Non-verbals of the Feet and Legs

When someone turns their feet away from you, either both feet or one foot turned away creating an “L” formation, this means they are ready to depart the conversation. They may even swivel their chair so their lower body and torso is pointed away from you.

Alternatively, when a person’s feet (and torso) directly face you, this is a sign of engagement.

When a person has crossed legs, and begins bouncing their upper foot, this can be a sign of discomfort or lack of interest.

If you notice someone disengaging from the conversation with their legs and feet, make note of your body to ensure you’re not initiating their discomfort with your non-verbals. After the interview, perhaps you can determine what you were saying when you noticed a change in their body language.

Watch what your feet and legs convey:

  • Keep your ankles uncrossed. Crossed ankles suggests insecurity or discomfort. I’ve seen many interviewees do this.
  • Don’t jiggle your legs. It projects nervousness and anxiety.
  • Keep your feet pointed directly at the interviewer.

Upper Body Non-Verbals

People tend to lean back and away from someone in an interview when they are not connecting with them. However, this can also be a territorial posture when coupled with splayed legs (usually in men). Conversely, we lean into people when we are comfortable with them.

Arm crossing is a protective gesture. When someone blocks their upper body with crossed arms, it’s an indication they’re being guarded toward you. Gripping the arms while crossed is an elevated sign of discomfort.

Watch what your upper body conveys:

  • Don’t allow your shoulders to rise up. Keep them pulled down and slightly pulled back in proper posture. Shrugged or slumped shoulders displays lack of confidence.
  • Leaning forward slightly is preferable to leaning back, or sitting stiffly, as it displays approachability and comfort with the interviewer.

Non-verbal hand gestures

When an interviewer is leaning in toward you and has interlocked fingers with their thumbs pointing upward, this is a comfortable, open, conversational position.

Watch for hands in pockets, especially if they are leaning back in their chair. This is a dismissive posture.

Watch what your hands are saying:

People tend to wring their hands, or rub their palms together when they are nervous. Pay attention to how you use your hands in an interview. It will be noticed.

Women are especially guilty of touching their hair in an interview, whether pushing away their bangs, or tucking it behind their ear. It’s distracting, and comes across unprofessional. Consider wearing your hair in a style that reduces the chance you’ll touch it if this is a habit of yours.

Another hand consideration is to avoid wiping yours after shaking hands with the interviewer, either with your other hand, or on the side of your pant leg or skirt.

 One of the most confident hand positions is steepling your hands, finger tip to finger tip. You can have them steepled on your lap, or rested on the table in front of you. Try not to appear wooden — no need to keep your hands in one position the entire interview.

Loosely interlocked fingers are a comfortable alternative if you aren’t quite ready for steepled fingers. 

Facial cues

Some negative non-verbals from the face include:

  • Furrowed eye brows
  • Tightly pursed lips, with or without the corners of the mouth down-turned
  • Squinting
  • A delay in opening the eyes after closing them
  • Polite smiles where the corners of the mouth move out toward the ears, instead of curving up toward the eyes

Watch your own facial cues to ensure you’re not projecting these negative non-verbals. In addition, avoid licking your bottom lip. If you’re nervous, you may do this to soothe yourself unconsciously. 

When you smile, ensure the corners of your mouth are upturned, exposing your teeth. Smiles with closed lips often appear forced.

A slight head tilt is also positive sign. People convey openness and receptivity with this gesture. People don’t tend to head tilt if they don’t like you.

Have you observed telling or interesting body language in an interview? Please share with readers in the comments.

All the best to you!​

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