A lot of candidates appear for interviews to organizations offering a new job or institutes offering master degrees after reading one or two articles on body language randomly off the internet. Since not much thought is spared as to the details of these “tips”, candidates sometimes end up making mistakes with serious repercussions.
While conducting mock interviews myself, here are some commonly occurring myths that I have experienced candidates to be having:
1. “Hands on the table” is a good strategy: Placing your hands on the table, at a slight angle, is a better bet than keeping them frozen by your side when you are appearing for an interview. The catch here is that most candidates don’t really know taking up how much of table space would be comfortable for the interviewer. Body language involves the concept of personal space, which is the distance at which a person is comfortable conversing with people having different levels of relationship with him. Since the interviewer and the interviewee might be meeting for the first time during the interview, they would share a strictly formal relation. Clearly, the interviewer would be in command since he is supposed to be the one asking the questions, and you are expected to take up less than half the table space. Most candidates, when they begin, position their hands appropriately. But I have seen them suddenly take up a lot of table space if they are confident of the answers. When questions are data related, or the table size is generous, this might not be a big deal. For opinion based answers, where the interviewer has a different take than you, or in case the table is small, he may back off from the table if you start showing dominant postures. If the interviewer becomes defensive, there might be some trouble in store for you.
2. Smiling shows friendliness: Any article suggesting how candidates should appear for interviews is bound to include flashing a good smile. A good smile indeed warms up both the parties during the first few seconds of interaction and helps form a friendly first impression. Smiling might start to work against you if, for every instance of not knowing an answer, you flash a smile at the interviewer, hoping that you would maintain the same friendliness with the interviewer, no matter how you answer. This trick just does not work. In fact, the more you smile under such instances, the more negative you might be marked. This is one of those cases where just forming a good first impression will not help you crack the code.
3. Gestures add value as illustrators: Research has indicated that using gestures can help increase verbal fluency. The right type of gestures used to highlight your point can aid you to be in command of your answers. The trouble is, most interviewees don’t go into the details of what are appropriate gestures or what frequency of gesturing will work in their favour. Using gestures too frequently is very distracting for the person trying to make sense of what you are actually saying. Also, the torso above the table is the ideal zone for displaying your gestures. If hand movements start blocking your face, your expressions will not be visible to the interviewer.
4. Steady eye contact makes me look powerful: Does locking eyes with the interviewer make you look all powerful? Yes, it does, provided you remember to break the eye contact once every few seconds. When strangers are interacting, the break of eye contact is a welcome relief, since it helps balance out the intrusion of personal space being attempted by both parties when they look directly at each other. In case there is a panel of interviewers, you have to remember to look at every single one of them, not just the one who asked you the question you are answering.
5. Looking confident will help me sail through: Last but the most important thing to remember is, simply by dressing well, adopting a confident posture, having sufficient eye contact and using gestures will not win you a seat, if you have weak or no content to back up your initial impression. While there are lots of studies undertaken to prove that first impressions are what really matter, really experienced interviewers will want to ensure that their initial impression of you holds up till the end of the interview. A lot of interviewers I talked to confirmed their swing in opinion of candidates who are powerful candidates but fail to make their point.
Body Language Consultant