The Job Interview: Body Language

Savvy job seekers know that, in order to be prepared for job interviews, they need to formulate and practice answers to common interview questions. Yet even the most polished answers will get you nowhere if your body language is problematic. Studies estimate that about 65% of all communication is nonverbal – which means that hiring managers are evaluating you on much more than the content of your answers. Make sure that your body is projecting the same message as your words with these tips.

A tall confident posture

Do not slouch. A slumped-over posture sends one of two messages; it says either “I’m scared” or “I’m bored.” These are not ideas you want to evoke during your interview! Your stance should project confidence and enthusiasm. Stand and sit tall, with your chest out, shoulders back, and head held high. Pretend that there is a broomstick taped to your spine. (Some people also find it helpful to make sure that their backs never touch the backs of their chairs.) For most people, this will not come naturally or feel comfortable at first, so practice it until you become used to it.

Practicing good posture will not only make you look more confident, it will actually make you feel more confident. Holding a tall powerful stance for as little as two minutes can cause a spike in your body’s testosteronelevel  and a drop in your body’s cortisol (the stress hormone) level. Check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on power poses for more information on this phenomenon.

A pleasant facial expression

One of your major goals in the interview should be to make the interviewers like you. After all, they will have to work daily with whomever they hire — so why would they hire someone unlikeable? One of the easiest ways to be seen as friendly and approachable is to have a pleasant facial expression. Smile a lot. Look enthusiastic and happy to be there. Keep a friendly light in your eyes at all times. This is harder than it sounds — after all, an interview is a high-pressure environment in which you’ll be concentrating intensely. In these circumstances, people tend to frown or scowl. Be aware of this issue, and practice with a mirror if you’re having trouble maintaining that pleasant face.

Steady eye contact

The eyes are the windows to your soul — and if your interviewers can’t see yours, they’re not going to feel any connection to you. Even more troubling is the fact that by avoiding eye contact, you come across as not confident or even untrustworthy. No one will believe what you have to say if you can’t meet their eyes while saying it. From your perspective, maintaining good eye contact may seem difficult and uncomfortable because you may feel shy bragging about yourself to strangers. Overcome this tendency by practicing with a friend or with a mirror. Make sure that you can maintain good eye contact both while listening (to show that you’re paying attention) and while speaking (to project confidence). Additionally, f you are interviewed by multiple people, try to divide your eye contact evenly between them.

However, this can be carried too far. If you stare down your interviewers while barely blinking, you will come across as intimidating or creepy. Find a good balance.

Clear vocal tone and enunciation

It sounds simple, but many people forget that your answers don’t count for anything if the interviewers can’t hear or understand you. Make sure that you speak loudly, precisely, and slowly enough to be clearly understood. Do not allow your nerves to make you whisper, mumble, or yammer.

Proper placement of arms and legs

When you sit, your feet should either be placed firmly on the ground in front of you, or crossed at the ankle (not the knee). Anything else looks too casual. Make sure that your arms show an open stance — not crossed or closing off your body in a way that would indicate hostility, boredom, or fear. Your hands may be placed in your lap, on the armrests of your chair, or on the table in front of you.

A good handshake

Don’t let yourself go to either extreme in terms of pressure — a “limp fish” handshake looks unconfident, but an “arm wrestler” handshake is too aggressive. If possible, try to make sure that your hands are not clammy, sweaty, sticky, or freezing.

No fidgeting

You can use your hands to gesture and emphasize within reason — don’t look like a choir conductor. However, you should endeavor not to make any mindless, purposeless movements. No jiggling of your leg, tapping your pen, swinging in your chair, etc. In addition to making you look nervous, these types of movements are very distracting and can be annoying to others. If you tend to fidget, plan accordingly and remove temptation as much as possible. Keep your hair pulled back so you can’t twirl it. Paint your nails so you won’t bite them. Don’t wear jewelry, bring a click pen, or have gum in your mouth for the interview. And practice sitting absolutely still for several minutes at a time.

Further Review

Below are some of the relevant items from the Career Center collection that are available for check out. You can check availability and place a hold via the East Baton Rouge Parish Library‘s online catalog.

  • The Body Language Handbook: How to Read Everyone’s Hidden Thoughts and Intentions by Gregory Hartley (book)
  • Good First Impressions: Proven Tips and Techniques for Successful Job Interviews by JISTWorks (DVD)
  • Words, Camera, Action! How Body Language, Tone, and Words Affect Communication by Linx Educational (DVD)

Written by Lynnette Lee.

The Job Interview: How to Dress for an Interview

 

With all of the complex work you’ve put in to succeed at your job search, it would be a shame for you to mess up your chances due to something as simple as clothing. But a lot of job seekers do just that; one of the main reasons employers cite for not hiring someone is that the candidate was inappropriately dressed for the interview.

Here are some tips to help you dress for success.

General Guidelines

You should dress pretty formally and conservatively: nothing casual, gaudy, or provocative. The advice of some experts is to dress as you would for a funeral or a meeting with the president. Note that the level of formality required may change depending on the kind of job you’re applying for. For example, an office executive would wear a three-piece suit and dress shoes, but a construction worker might wear a polo shirt with khakis and work boots.

Don’ts

Visible tattoos and/or piercings. Cover them up or take them out. Earrings are acceptable, but if you have multiple piercings in your ears, less is definitely more.

Flashy or clunky jewelry. Be very minimalistic with accessories. This is especially true for men, who should wear only a watch.

Hats, sunglasses, or hoodies. The employer wants to see your face.

Lots of colorful makeup. This is not a nightclub. A little makeup can make you look vibrant and energetic, but too much will make you look unprofessional.

Clothing that doesn’t fit well. Your outfit should skim your body — neither hugging it too tight nor too saggy.

Clothing that is dirty, wrinkled, or torn. You want to look like you care about getting the details right.

Clothing which is too revealing. Short skirts and plunging necklines are inappropriate for the job interview.

Jeans, t-shirts, sweatpants, pajamas, gym clothes, sneakers, flip-flops, etc. Comfortable clothing which you would wear to lounge around the house has no business in a professional setting.

Elaborate and distracting hairstyles, bedhead, or hair in your face. Ideally, you want your hair to be pulled back from your face, and you want it to look groomed and manageable.

Scraggly facial hair. If you have a beard or mustache, keep it trimmed and groomed.

Long and/or colorful nails. Keep it conservative – you don’t want your electric blue nail polish to distract the interviewer. Long fingernails are frowned upon if you’re interviewing for a job where you’ll need to use your hands — such as preparing food, shelving merchandise, using a computer, etc.

Perfume, cologne, or aftershave. Some people are allergic to fragrances, and you don’t want to set off the interviewer’s allergies.

Body odor or bad breath. Just . . . eww.

Do’s

Be clean, neat, and well-groomed. Shower, wash your hair, and brush your teeth. Wear deodorant (but avoid strongly scented ones). Comb your hair, style it simply, and keep it out of your face. Clean and file your fingernails. Gentlemen, groom your facial hair. Ladies, wear a bit of makeup in neutral colors.

Prepare your outfit carefully. Try on your outfit several days before the interview. Make sure it fits you well. If necessary, have the outfit altered or mended. Clean and iron your outfit the day before the interview.

Choose appropriate shoes, and clean them. Dress shoes are always a good choice, but work boots are also acceptable for positions which involve manual labor (construction, warehousing, etc). We recommend closed-toed shoes — not sandals — with little or no heel. Flip-flops, sneakers, clunky combat boots, and giant platform heels are strictly forbidden.

Dress conservatively. Stick to mostly dark or neutral clothing, with perhaps a small splash of color. Make sure your accessories, hair, makeup, nails, etc., are not gaudy or flashy. Wear nothing revealing or provocative. Cover tattoos and remove piercings other than earrings.

Dress formally, allowing variations depending on the position. A three-piece suit is always an excellent choice — and is indeed the only choice for someone applying for an upper-level executive position. However, for positions which are slightly less advanced, there are several other good options. A man applying to be the head bank teller might wear a dress shirt and slacks without a jacket or tie. A woman applying to be an office manager might wear a blouse and skirt with or without a jacket. For some entry-level positions, and for some blue-collar positions, even less formality may be acceptable. A teenager applying for her first job at a grocery store might wear a polo shirt and khakis, as might a machine operator applying at an industrial plant. If you’re not sure what to wear, try to err on the side of being more formal than is necessary.

Additional Reading

For more on this subject, try these books which are available for check out from the Career Center.

  • Style Bible: What to Wear to Work by Lauren A. Rothman
  • Dress to Impress: How a Navy Blazer Changed My Life by Joyce Nelson Shellhart
  • Dressing Smart for Men by Joanna Nicholson

Written by Lynnette Lee.

The Job Interview: “What’s Your Weakness?”

“What’s your greatest weakness” is one of the most common interview questions in existence – and one of the most despised. This question often feels like a trap – there are so many ways to answer it poorly. Let’s look at the most common mistakes people make with this question.

Mistake #1

“I don’t really have any weaknesses. I’m basically an all-around solid employee.”

How this hurts you: This seems like a great answer at first – you’re perfect! There’s no downside to hiring you! In practice, though, it makes you seem arrogant, devoid of self-awareness, and resistant to constructive criticism.

Mistake #2

“My biggest weakness is that I can be a little lazy sometimes. So, if I don’t have a boss breathing down my neck, I might just goof off for several hours.”

How this hurts you: Some people feel that honesty is always the best policy, but as you can see from this answer, that’s not the case in job interviews. You should not be unflinchingly honest with your flaws – you’re supposed to be selling your best self.

Mistake #3

“My greatest weakness is perfectionism. I’m devoted singlemindedly to doing the best job I can. Sometimes I work myself a little too hard, but it’s only because I care so darn much.”

How this hurts you: This answer tries to disguise a strength as a weakness. This approach fails on three levels. First, it fails because it is the stock answer which they’ve heard a million times. Second, it fails because it doesn’t actually answer the question – hard work is not a weakness, and they won’t be fooled. Third, it fails because it smacks of insincerity.

Mistake #4

“My greatest weakness is that I tend to procrastinate on complex tasks. I always get my work completed by the deadline, but sometimes it takes longer than it needs to.”

How this hurts you: This one comes so close to getting it right – you’ve identified a genuine weakness, but one that’s not debilitating, and you’ve avoided coming across as conceited or dishonest. Yet it still might hurt you, because the hiring manager might worry about how much this weakness will affect your job performance.

So How Do You Answer This Question?

It almost seems like there is no good way to answer this question – but rest assured, there is! Anytime an interview question stumps you, it can be helpful to think about things from the hiring manager’s perspective. This can help you figure out what kind of answer they might be looking for.

Why do they ask this question? Because no one is perfect, and improving your weaknesses is a crucial part of becoming a great employee. Hiring managers ask this question because, on a surface level, they want to know if you have any major flaws which would make you a liability for the company. Beyond that, they want to make sure that you are humble and self-aware enough to identify your shortcomings. But even that isn’t enough – what good is it to know that you’re bad at something, if you make no effort to improve?

Winning Strategy

Pretend that instead of asking you, “What’s your greatest weakness?”, they asked, “Tell me about how you overcame your greatest weakness.” Identify a weakness that you’ve struggled with in the past, but focus most of your answer on the efforts you’ve made to overcome this weakness, and the improved result. Use the STAR formula to structure your answer.

Winning Example

“My greatest weakness is a natural tendency to procrastinate on complex tasks. I’ve always gotten my work done by the deadline, but sometimes it’s taken longer than it had to. Last year, I realized how much my inefficiency bothered me, so I took a time management webinar, and afterwards I went to the library and checked out three books on procrastination. I learned lots of helpful tips and strategies, including a new way of writing to-do lists so that I don’t get overwhelmed by large projects. Since I implemented these strategies, my project completion rate has gotten much better.”

One last hidden trap

Choose your weakness carefully. Do not pick a weakness that is crucial to the job duties at hand. For example, if you’re applying for a position as an accountant, don’t say, “My greatest weakness is that I used to be really uncomfortable with numbers.” No matter how great a story you can spin about overcoming your discomfort with numbers, they will not hire you as an accountant.

Written by Lynnette Lee.

The Job Interview: Shine with the STAR Formula

People waiting for an interview

What is it, and why is it important?

The STAR formula is a method of structuring your answer to certain interview questions, in order to make sure that your answer is organized and properly showcases your achievements. Without this structure, your answer may be rambling, unfocused, or underwhelming. The STAR formula has become a very popular trend in interviewing. We had one client recently who was told, specifically, that she did not get a job because her interview answers did not make use of the STAR method.

When would I use it?

You should use the STAR formula to answer behavioral questions – that is, questions which ask for specific stories and examples from your past work experience. These questions include:

  • Tell us about a time you faced a tough problem at work.
  • Give me an example of a time when you handled an angry customer.
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a co-worker.
  • Give me an example of a time when you met an impossible deadline.
  • Tell us about your greatest professional accomplishment.

What does it stand for?

Situation: Give us the background information. Lay out the situation so that we’ll understand what was going on. Your English teacher would call this the exposition.

Task: Tell us what you needed to accomplish. What was the challenge that faced you? Note: this is very similar to Situation, and in fact some people combine these two categories into Situation or Task. Do not spend too much time on Situation and/or Task. Although it is crucial to give enough explanation to make your story easy to follow, be careful not to get bogged down in boring and irrelevant details. Just give the necessary facts.

Action: Talk about what you did in this situation. What actions did you take to calm the angry customer, or resolve the conflict, or meet the deadline? This is the exciting part of your story, so spend most of your time here. Be specific with the steps you took. And make sure you’re talking about what you personally did, rather than what your team did – this is no time to be modest.

Result: Let us know how everything turned out. After all, what story is complete without the happy ending?

Winning Example

Interview question

Give us an example of a time when you went above and beyond to get the job done.

Answer

Situation: My work at the credit union is very customer-service-oriented, so going above and beyond the job description is frequently necessary in order to make the customers happy. For example, last year one of our customers was approved for a home loan, but she couldn’t come in to sign her final paperwork because she was a single parent and her daughter was in the hospital.

Task: I knew that her loan approval was going to expire if I didn’t find a way to get her to sign that paperwork.

Action: So I took it upon myself to take the paperwork to her. I spent my lunch break one day driving over to the hospital, getting her to sign the paperwork, and triple-checking to make sure that she had done everything that was necessary.

Result: She was so grateful; she kept saying that it was such a load off her mind at a stressful time, and that she appreciated the personal touch. In the end, it worked out well for everyone – her daughter got better, her loan paperwork went through, and the credit union now has a loyal customer for life.”

Written by Lynnette Lee.

Practice makes perfect! Contact us to schedule an appointment for assistance with crafting your answers or for a mock interview.