Your body language may speak louder than your words, according to researcher Albert Mehrabian, an early pioneer in the study of nonverbal communication. Mehrabian claimed that 93% of human communication is nonverbal, encompassing body language and tone of voice.
Since Mehrabian’s studies in the late 1960s, other researchers have cited different percentages, but one finding remains constant: People communicate beyond the spoken word. One sign of high emotional intelligence is the ability to read nonverbal messages from others — and to manage your own nonverbal communication.
As you prepare for your next interview, career coaches recommend that you focus on improving your nonverbal communication skills along with your spoken responses to typical interview questions. Even if you provide all the right answers, your nonverbal communication needs to convey the appropriate messages as well.
What Is Nonverbal Communication, Anyway?
Nonverbal communication imparts messages without words. Nonverbal communication includes body language, tone of voice, and what’s not said but can be implied or inferred from what is said.
During a job interview, you want to pay special attention to all of that, because while you’re interviewing to get the job, your interviewer is most likely using the event to find reasons to eliminate you from the process.
For better or worse, many hiring managers and recruiters are trained to fill the “funnel” with as many candidates as possible and then weed them out one by one until there’s a winner. As such, your interviewer isn’t necessarily looking for reasons to like you but instead may be doing the exact opposite.
Don’t let your nonverbal communication be a factor in that mix.
Practice Makes Perfect
Securing your dream job with a false persona rather than your authentic personality is a bad idea, but there’s more to job interviewing than “just being yourself.”
Interviewing is a skill. As such, you can get better at it with practice. Working on the following types of nonverbal communication is a great start:
- Facial expression — Some people have naturally expressive faces that react to stimuli simultaneously. Others have more muted demeanors. During a job interview, try to make your facial expression neutral and nonthreatening. You don’t want your face to say things you wouldn’t utter aloud.
- Tone of voice — Tone of voice can suggest tension, anger, condescension, prevarication, or any one of a number of undesirable emotions that will give your interviewer a negative impression of you. You want your tone to be calm and as low-pitched as is natural for your voice. (Apparently, high-pitched voices are quite annoying to some.)
- Body posture — Hunched shoulders, clenched fists, and overall stiffness can communicate stress and make others stressed, too. During your next interview, make a point of appearing relaxed. Consciously drop your shoulders, don’t fidget, and breathe regularly and evenly. (Don’t breathe too loudly, though, as your interviewer may misinterpret that as sighing and assume you’re exasperated about something!)
- Eye contact — In American culture, we’re taught that steady eye contact communicates honesty, and no matter how much this belief is challenged, it persists. So, you’ll want to make solid, friendly eye contact with your interviewer, avoiding staring, which makes people uncomfortable.
- Gestures — In the game of poker, a “tell” is a change in a player’s demeanor or behavior that gives clues to the player’s hand. In the game of job interviewing, a “tell” provides clues to the interviewer about your state of mind. Tapping your feet or fingers, playing with your hair, a bad handshake, failing to smile, smiling too much, and eye rolling are all gestures that can send an interviewer the wrong message about your sincerity, honesty, assertiveness level and even competence.
Career Coach Ideas for Improving Your Nonverbal Communication Skills
Most of us are unaware of our nonverbal communication habits, which makes managing them a challenge. However, here are three things we can do to become more aware:
- Videotaping — While the idea of videotaping yourself may make you cringe, it’s a good way to understand what others see when you communicate.
- Audiotaping — Recording and then listening to your voice will help you hear what others hear, including tone of voice, inflection and pitch.
- Mock interviews — Whether a career coach or a good friend, having someone else play the role of interviewer will allow you to practice your interviewing skills in an interactive manner. They will then be able to offer constructive feedback on your nonverbal skills.
What steps have you taken to improve your nonverbal communication skills?