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Don’t Keep Your Mouth Shut! Common Nonverbal Mistakes Made at Job Interviews

A while back I went through several weeks when I was asked to be on several interview panels in a row. After interviewing so many candidates, I began to find myself paying just as much attention to the applicant’s non-verbal mannerisms as I was to their answers.

The reason for this was that some of these candidates had some behaviors that were so distracting that I tuned out some of what they were saying.

For example, one young man kept throwing up his hands at the end of each answer he gave. I can only assume this was to add emphasis, but unfortunately it came across more as a gesture of surprise that he was able to answer the question at all.

He did it so much that I began making mental bets with myself about the exact point at which he’d throw up his hands!

Another young lady kept twisting off the top of her pen and twisting it back on again, over and over throughout the interview. I’m sure this was a sign of nervousness on her part, but after a while, the other people on the interview panel began glancing at her pen every time she did this.

I suspect they too were making mental bets with themselves as to exactly when she would once again twist that cap off and on. I was pretty sure this distracted them from what she had to say.

These oddball examples inspired me to talk about three of the more common nonverbal mannerisms that can cause your interview to go off the rails.

Nervous Gestures

Don't make nervous gestures at an interview

Of course you’re nervous in an interview. Everyone is. As hiring managers, we expect this.

However, we’re also evaluating your ability to overcome that nervousness and still do well in your interview. The thing is, many people’s way of controlling their nervousness is with various unconscious gestures, such as these common ones: shaking your leg up and down, making frequent broad sweeping hand gestures, clicking, or simply fiddling with your pen or pencil.

It’s perfectly okay to hold a pen during your interview, so long as you hold it still when you’re not writing. No one will tell you to stop clicking that button on top of your pen, but chances are that will be the first thing they talk about after your interview is over!

Bad Handshake

Make the right handshake at your interview

Although handshakes are pretty rare now due to the pandemic, they are starting to be occasionally done again. And, as has always been true, handshakes in any social situation can be awkward – as well as telling!

This is particularly true with a job interview. It’s one of those things where your goal should be for it to be completely neutral. In other words, something that is forgotten as soon as it’s done. What you don’t want is to be remembered as having a “bad” handshake, of which there are two common ones.

The first one is frequently called a “dead fish” handshake. This is where the other person simply places their hand is yours without squeezing at all. It just sits there like a limp, dead fish. This can create an impression of either insecurity or disinterest, both of which are not good things in a job interview.

The second type of bad handshake is just the reverse: someone grips your hand like it was the start of an MMA match. This can be taken as overly aggressive or, paradoxically – as a sign of insecurity.

Okay, so what’s the ideal handshake? Simple – medium-firm grip and lasting about two seconds.

Too Much or Too Little Eye Contact

make good eye contact at your interview

I know, I know, this sounds like a no-win situation.

But here’s the deal. Many candidates fumble this one and will do one of two things: make little or no eye contact with anyone, or focus their attention exclusively on the person who seems to be the friendliest. So how do you hit the sweet spot of just enough eye contact? Here’s my best advice.

If a person on the interview panel is talking, focus your eyes on them and maintain contact. When you are talking, simply let your gaze go around the table slowly and make eye contact with each person for two or three seconds.

If there are only two people on the interview panel, just go back and forth between them about every five or six seconds.

Of course, if you are being interviewed by only one person, your job is easy. Maintain eye contact with them almost 100% of the time, glancing away only occasionally when making or acknowledging a point made.

Having said all this, I’ll also tell you that I’ve never met a hiring manager who made a hiring decision based strictly on the nonverbal mannerisms of a candidate. However, they can still have a big impact on the overall impression you give and might just be the tie-breaker between you and another equally qualified candidate.

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