Interview questions and structured interviewing
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Reading Interviewer Non-verbal Cues

Patricia Van Zandt

Can you imagine speaking positive words but conveying an entirely different message laden with negative connotations? For example, consider being asked, “Do you consider yourself to be an honest person?” The answer you express verbally is audibly heard as, “Yes, I consider myself to be an honest person” but your body movements, however, relay a totally negative message saying, “No, I cannot be trusted.” How can this be?

To put it simply, your non-verbal communication or body language did not match your verbal communication, or spoken words. Perhaps your voice cracked or wavered when you answered, or your eyes rapidly darted around the room and made the person you were speaking to feel as if your answer was insincere or dishonest. From head to toe, and whether you are conscious of your body movements or not, a person’s body language speaks a non-verbal language of its own. Movements, such as arm gestures and eye contact, can reveal a person’s feelings or emotions - but if your body language doesn’t match your spoken word, the end result is a conflicting message. While intentional body language can be helpful in emphasizing your message – for example an actor in a play may need to emphasis a point with dramatic arm motions - unintentional body language is perhaps the more revealing form of non-verbal communication because it provides insight into thoughts without communicating words. Remember the saying, “actions speak louder than words?”

So what affect can non-verbal communication have on your job search?
First, when interpreted correctly, communicating through body language can provide a job seeker with valuable insight into the mind of the hiring official, and vice versa, by providing valuable information about your personality, thoughts, emotions, concerns or agreement. Eye contact is an extremely revealing communicator.

Non-verbal clues
At your next job interview, pay close attention to the recruiter or hiring official’s intentional and unintentional body language to help you determine how well your interview is going. Likewise, be sure to return the same positive feedback to the hiring manager. Here are some clues to look for:

Eye contact: Eye contact is one of the most revealing non-verbal communicators. Positive eye contact includes direct eye contact but not so much that the other person feels he or she is taking part in a staring contest. Oftentimes a person will consider avoidance of direct eye contact as a sign of dishonesty, or uneasiness to the subject being discussed. Rapidly shifting eye movements, as though the person is searching for something more interesting to look at, can also be interpreted as a poor communicator or a sign of uneasiness or discomfort.

Facial expressions: Raised eyebrows can show concern, confusion, and surprise or indicate the person is engaged in deep thought. A red face can indicate embarrassment or anger. Smiling is generally a positive form of body language, but can have a negative effect if used at the wrong time. A nod is a positive way to show interest in the subject area being discussed. It can show agreement without verbally interrupting the speaker. Nodding also shows that you are in fact listening and understanding what the speaker is saying.

Hands and arms: Both are very strong communicators and indicators of a person’s mood, feelings or emotions. Pointing and arm swinging motions can add emphasis to your thoughts and words. But again, use caution. Too much movement can distract the listener from the verbal message. Typically, closed hands, crossed arms, clenched, closed hands in your lap send a negative message that says “do not approach.”

While attempting to interpret a person’s body language is often difficult to read and perhaps may require an expert’s interpretation, it can help ease your mind following a job interview. If both you and the interviewer’s verbal communication and non-verbal communication are engaging and positive, generally you can assume your interview session was the same.

Body Image for the Job Seeker
To ensure you convey a positive message, during your next job interview be sure to do the following:

Position your body so you are facing the job interviewer

Lean forward slightly

Leave your arms at your side rather than crossed in front of your body

Engage in a relaxed posture

Use direct eye contact and positive facial expressions

Avoid the following: Slumping or leaning completely backward in your chair or slouching. Any of the following body positions can indicate to the interviewer you are disinterested in the position or are disrespectful of the interviewer.

Make sure you convey your enthusiasm toward the job opening and employer. A dynamic attitude will indicate you have an interest in the interviewer, the job, the company and life in general.

Other job interview Don’ts

Excessive touching of your face

Playing with your hair or jewelry

Scratching or nervously ringing of hands

Doodling on your notebook or notepad, chewing on your pencil