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How Body Language Can Make (or Break) a Job Interview

Robert Ordona, for Monster


Shake it—don’t break it

Job interviews mean handshakes—so what are the secrets to the perfect handshake? The overly aggressive shake (or “death grip,” as Craig calls it) can be as off-putting as the limp handshake, so practice with a friend before the interview to find the right balance.


You’re going to be shaking with your right hand, so prepare by arranging your belongings on your left side. Offer your hand with the palm slightly up so that your interviewer’s hand covers yours. “It’s a sign that you’re giving them status,” says Bowden. And never cover the other person’s hand with the hand you’re not shaking with—it can be interpreted as a sign of domination.


Important steps

The walk to the interview is the perfect time to use body language: “Always follow that person, whether the person is the hiring manager or an assistant, to show you understand the protocol. You’re saying, ’I’m the job candidate, and you’re the company representative—I follow your lead.’” Bowen adds that you should try to “mirror” that person’s tempo and demeanor. “It shows you can easily fit into the environment.”


At the interview desk

In the interview room, It’s OK to place a slim portfolio on the table, especially if you’ll be presenting its contents, but put your other belongings on the floor beside you. Holding a briefcase or handbag on your lap will make you seem as though you’re trying to create a barrier around yourself, cautions Craig.


Avoid leaning forward, which makes you appear closed off, Bowden says. Instead, he advises sitting up straight and displaying your neck, chest, and stomach area—to signal that you’re open.


When gesturing with your hands, Craig says, you should always keep them above the desk and below the collarbone: “Any higher and you’re going to appear frantic.”


Bowden advises that you keep your hands even lower, in what he calls the “truth plane”—an area that fans out 180 degrees from your navel. “Gesturing from here communicates that you’re centered, controlled, and calm—and that you want to help.”


It’s fine to sit about a foot away from the table so that your gestures are visible, he says.


The art of departing

At the end of the interview, gather your belongings calmly, rise smoothly, smile, and nod your head. If shaking hands with everyone in the room isn’t convenient, at least shake hands with the hiring manager and the person who brought you to the interview space.


You may be tempted to try to read your interviewers’ body language for signals about how the interview went, but don’t, cautions Bowden—because they’re likely trained not to give away too much. He sums up, “Don’t allow any thoughts into your mind that may [cause you to] leave the interview in a negative way.”