What Are You Saying Without Words?

May 08, 2012 by Careerminds

Jennifer Fry
Careerminds Consultant


Job interviews are all about making face-to-face connections with potential employers, answering the questions well and really making it clear that you’re the best candidate for the job. Your responsibility as the interviewee is to send the right message: “I’m perfect for this position! Hire me!” That’s all true, but one thing that job seekers can fail to recognize are the messages they send without saying anything.
Body language is often something people don’t consciously think about– maybe you’ll sit up a little straighter in a formal situation, or you’ll make eye contact with someone when they’re speaking, but honestly, how often do you think about the non-verbal communicators you’re sending out? A professional in career transition and going through the interview process, or even employed and sitting in that meeting to negotiate a raise needs to remember that not everything you say can be heard, and that those things that are seen can have a major impact on the impression you’ll leave.

  • Handshake: Probably the first thing you do upon meeting an interviewer is shake his/her hand, and as you may have heard before, your handshake can say a lot about you. A strong handshake is an indicator of confidence and enthusiasm, so be sure to take your interviewer’s hand firmly, without squeezing, and offer one solid shake. Tip: If your palms feel sweaty from nerves, make sure you wash them or at least wipe them dry before going into the interview.
  • Posture: Mom always told you to sit up straight, so here’s hoping you’ll take her advice. Slouching in your seat will make you appear too casual and disinterested. Keep your feet either on the floor, or crossed knee-to-knee or ankle-to-ankle, and lean forward slightly to indicate interest. Also, avoid sitting on the edge of the chair, as this may seem like a sign of discomfort or nervousness.
  • Facial Expressions: It may be necessary to keep yourself conscious of the expressions on your face– some people just settle into a scowl or frown without thinking of it, and although they don’t mean to, they may appear worried, uncomfortable or down-right crabby to others. A smile can go a long way to make you look enthusiastic, interested, confident and personable, even if you have to remind yourself to do it every now and then.
  • Gestures: Gesturing in a natural means of non-verbal communication, but some people may need a reminder to keep their gestures in check. Wild movements, or simply too many, can indicate a lack of control. On the flip side, little to no movement can appear unnatural, a possible side effect of nerves. It’s perfectly acceptable to talk with you hands a bit to emphasize points and so on, but avoid distracting or over-the-top gestures. Additionally, when you are not speaking or using your hands to gesture, it’s best to leave them on your lap– no fidgeting!
  • Responding to Others: To show that you are engaged in what another person is saying, maintain eye contact, nod, use facial expressions to react, and employ a technique called mirroring. Mirroring is simply the practice of adopting another person’s general posture, movement and tone. You don’t want to copy exactly, but something as simple as smiling or leaning forward at the same time can indicate to someone that you are invested in what he/she is saying.
  • A Few Additional Tips:
    • Don’t lean back in your seat, as this can appear too casual.
    • Don’t cross your legs with one ankle resting on the other knee. This can appear too relaxed or even arrogant.
    • Avoid looking around you too much, averting your eyes to the floor or ceiling, as this makes you appear disingenuous or distracted.
    • Don’t interrupt. Instead, use non-verbal responses discussed previously to indicate agreement, interest, etc. until the other person is finished speaking.

Whether you realize it or not, non-verbal indicators say a lot without you saying anything at all. By paying just a little more attention to the body language you’re employing, you can recognize where you may need a little adjusting, and make the refinements necessary to send the right messages (out loud or not) during your next interview or meeting.

Careerminds provides scalable, strategic solutions to organizations seeking affordable, web-based outplacement services. Using a Web 2.0 e-learning platform that delivers affordable, online career transition services, Careerminds provides a high-tech and high-touch blend of on-demand career transition education supported by senior-level career consultants to help displaced workers reenter the workforce quickly.



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