How you stand and sit - what you do with your arms and legs, how you hold your head, your body orientation toward or away from the listener - communicate messages that are interpreted by other individuals as having positive or negative meanings.

The listener (interviewer) may not even be consciously aware of what s/he is reacting to. But s/he knows that s/he feels comfortable or uncomfortable with, likes or dislikes, trusts or does not trust, the other individual. If the interviewer responds negatively to the applicant's nonverbal communication, it will be difficult for the candidate to overcome those negatives regardless of the verbal interaction.

What then are the behaviors you, the savvy applicant, should display? Examples of conduct that convey positive messages of liking the other person and being interested in the discussion include:
  • orienting your body toward the interviewer
  • leaning slightly forward toward the interviewer
  • openness of arms and body
  • keeping your posture relaxed - but not so relaxed that you are slouching!
  • maintaining eye contact
  • a positive facial expression
You will convey disinterest in and/or dislike for the other person if, during the interview, you lean back too comfortably in your chair, slump in the chair, constantly look around the room, avoid eye contact with the interviewer, drum your fingers, wring your hands, play with your rings, fidget, or keep your face expressionless.

When you slump or lean completely back in your chair, you simply can't convey the same level of interest and enthusiasm from that physical position, no matter how wonderful the rest of your nonverbal messages may be, as you would if you sat straight up in the chair, leaning forward slightly. The interviewer may interpret a slouching figure as conveying disrespect and lack of interest.

Direct body orientation means that your body is facing the interviewer, rather than placed sideways to the interviewer. If you are seated directly across a desk from the interviewer this position will probably be automatic and natural.

However, if you are seated at the side of the desk with the interviewer directly behind it or in a corner-to-corner, 90-degree angle arrangement around a coffee table, you should position your upper torso to face the interviewer more directly. You can do this by sitting a bit sideways in the chair and bending your upper torso a bit if necessary, to face the interviewer.

Openness of arms and body means that your arms are at your side rather than folded across your chest. By folding your arms across your body, you will convey, on a subliminal level, that you are "closed" to the other person and his ideas. The arms-open position shows that you are open and responsive to the interviewer and to his message.

Granted, there are other reasons you might fold your arms - simply being cold is one of them. But since "closed" body language might send a negative message, it is better to avoid the arms-folded posture.

If you are too tense, you will make the other person feel uncomfortable. S/he may wonder what you are trying to hide. So try to appear relaxed and comfortable - it will help the interviewer feel more comfortable - while at the same time not slouching!

By far the most important positive attitude you can convey is your enthusiasm - often perceived as dynamism. By your dynamic attitude you convey your interest in the other person, in the company, and in the job, as well as toward life in general. You reveal your dynamism through your tone of voice and facial expression and through your use of gestures and body language.

Of course, gestures can be overdone, but that is far less frequently a problem than the individual who uses few, if any, gestures. Gesture occasionally, naturally, and appropriately to reinforce your message. Do avoid wild gestures that are all over the place and don't reinforce your message.

It is also a good idea to keep your hands away from your face. Both men and women can exhibit preening behavior as they push hair away from their face or try to rearrange their hair. Women may unconsciously play with an earring. Or an interviewee may nervously scratch his chin or head or push back the cuticles on his fingers. These are distracting mannerisms that will focus the interviewer's attention on the extraneous behavior rather than your positive verbal messages.

Try to avoid having a pen or notepad in your hands except when you are using it. Anything in your hands becomes something for you to nervously play with and will also impede your effective use of gestures.

SOURCE: Adapted from Caryl and Ron Krannich, Savvy Interviewing: The Nonverbal Advantage (Manassas Park, VA: Impact Publications, 2000), pp. 80-83.