Originally posted on the Upright blog.
“What is your biggest weakness?” is always a tricky interview question. Oftentimes, the answer will be staring the interviewer in the face before you’ve even said a word.
For many of us, poor posture is that weakness, though we might not realize it. The nonverbal cues we send via our body language can easily affect the outcome of a job interview. That’s why it’s so important to choose our body positions as carefully as we do our words.
Fake it till you make it
How many times have you gone into a job interview feeling less than confident? Don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal to be nervous in a high-pressure situation, especially when you’re trying to impress. The trick is to get a handle on your nerves and not let them get the better of you.
Power poses don’t just reflect power, they produce it.
Now, you’re probably wondering how you can project an air of confidence when, deep down, you’re a bundle of nerves. The answer lies in a 2012 Harvard University study entitled The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High-Stakes Social Evaluation. The study found that adopting an open, relaxed body position – or “high-power” pose – doesn’t just reflect power, it produces it. In other words, the way you hold your body can actually trick your brain into feeling confident. Pretty mind-blowing stuff! So roll your shoulders back, keep your chin up, and get ready to rock an interview.
It all happens on a chemical level. Power posing increases the production of the dominance hormone testosterone, making you feel like the powerful, action-oriented risk-taker you want to be seen as. At the same time, it decreases the stress hormone cortisol, which is responsible for those pesky interview jitters that hold you back.
Participants in the Harvard study were required to deliver a speech while in either a high or low-power pose as part of a mock interview. Interestingly, the high-power posers performed better and were considered more employable than those with a closed-off or “low-power” body position. Let that be an incentive to improve your posture and tap into your inner strength.
You can also prep for your big interview with extra powerful power poses ahead of time. That’s right, power posing isn’t limited to sitting in an open, assertive position. In fact, many people prep for nerve-wracking events by spreading their feet a little larger than shoulder-width and raising their hands high in the air, making their body into a giant ‘X.’ While you may feel silly at first, holding this position truly works your hormones to give you the confidence ‘X’ Factor. Do your power posing at home in your room, alone on the elevator, or standing in the bathroom right before your interview.
Make a good first impression
As you wait to meet the interviewer, be aware that the receptionist or potential future colleagues might be observing you. This is the perfect time for you to get into a confident upright posture with your back straight and your chin parallel to the ground. Doing so will put you in the right frame of mind for what’s to come, and show everyone around that you mean business.
Interviewers are usually busy people who have to make quick decisions. In fact, they’ll often size you up in the first 10 seconds of meeting you. Their assessment starts the moment you enter the room, which is why you should walk in with purpose and energy, but never strut.
With your shoulders pulled back and your neck extended, walk directly toward the interviewer, maintaining eye contact. A friendly smile and a firm handshake show confidence and will help create an instant bond.
How to sit in an interview
How you sit in an interview says more about you than you may realize. Leaning back in your chair may be interpreted as a lack of interest in the job or a careless attitude. Slouching forward can indicate nervousness and low self-esteem. Crossing your arms or legs might give the impression that you’re defensive or standoffish.
Instead, when the interviewer offers you a seat, sit with your back straight (but not too stiff) against the chair, feet firmly on the floor. You might find it useful to imagine an invisible string pulling you up from the top of your head. If you are interviewing in a dress or skirt, cross your legs at the ankle to maintain polite manners without giving off an adverse demeanor. Good upright posture not only projects confidence but also makes you appear taller, which is considered by many to be a sign of intelligence and credibility.
You’ve heard of dressing for success. Well, think of this as sitting for success!
Speak using hand gestures
If you naturally talk with your hands, it’s fine to do that in the interview as long as your gestures aren’t overly enthusiastic or aggressive and you commit to your style. Using your hands halfway or apprehensively can be a tell of your nerves. Choose to use smooth, natural gestures or no gestures at all. Try to avoid short, sharp motions; you don’t want your fingers of fury distracting the interviewer from your words. That means no “karate-chop” gestures when you’re making a point… and certainly no pointing!
Avoid fidgeting or common grooming practices like cracking your knuckles, running your hands along the tops of your thighs, brushing your hair back repeatedly, or picking at your fingernails. Choose hairstyles, clothing, and jewelry that won’t need tugging and won’t be a distraction to you to ensure they are not a distraction for the interviewer.
If you’re unsure what to do with your hands, loosely clasp your fingers together and rest them on your lap or on the table in front of you. Or, for a more confident pose, you could press your fingertips together to form a church steeple.
Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to stick your hands in your pockets or below the table to hide your anxiety. Showing open palms signals honesty and engagement and will put the interviewer at ease.
Maintain appropriate eye contact
Emphasis on the word appropriate.
Maintaining eye contact with the interviewer is important for a few reasons; it shows that you’re giving them your undivided attention and also that you’re trustworthy. However, you’ll want to strike the right balance. Burning holes into the interviewer with your eyes will for sure make them uncomfortable and a little creeped out. Avoiding eye contact altogether can make you appear shifty and aloof.
A better way to show your interest in the interviewer is to glance at different parts of their face. Rather than gaze into the windows to their soul (awkward!), try alternating between their eyes, nose, and mouth every couple of seconds. It’s also fine to let your eyes wander from time to time, as you would if you were chatting with a friend. Be careful of where your eyes wander, though, looking at a watch, the clock, a window, or the door shows your interviewer you are anxious to leave.
When the interviewer is talking, throw in the occasional head nod and smile to show that you’re actively listening. Always return to direct eye contact when you answer questions for the added aura of confidence.
Mirror the interviewer’s body language
One of the fastest ways to establish a good rapport with the interviewer is to adopt the same gestures, facial expressions, or posture as them. While mimicking their behavior might sound disrespectful or even childish at first, “mirroring” is actually a proven technique for building trust in a relationship. Done right, it can make the other person feel as if they’re seeing themselves reflected in you, creating an unspoken affinity toward you.
Pay attention to the interviewer’s body language as he moves through his questions: If he sits in a more formal position, do the same. If he becomes more relaxed as the interview progresses, let your own posture reflect that. If he leans in slightly, follow suit, taking care to maintain a neutral spine and a natural flow of movement. Don’t overdo it, though, or he might see through you, and no perfectly practiced answer can save a bad impression.
Beyond the interview
Of course, knowing how to sit in an interview is only half the battle. You’ll want to maintain that good form once you start working, as correct posture in the office is essential to your focus, productivity, and general wellbeing.