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THE CAREER DOCTOR

SOMETIMES YOU SAY NOTHING - AND STILL SPEAK VOLUMES

In a job interview, is your body agreeing with what your mouth is saying? It is imperative that you are aware of your body language and what it says about you, writes Rowan Manahan


ABRAHAM LINCOLN famously said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time; you can fool some of the people all of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." And the reason why not is, in a nutshell, your body language.

Psychologists across the world argue as to just how much information we communicate non-verbally; but put a group of them in a room together and they will all agree that we receive very little information merely from what people say. Somewhere between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of all the information an interviewer takes on board during a job interview will be as a result of what you actually say. The rest comes from your non-verbal cues.

So make sure that your body is not disputing what your mouth is saying. The easiest way to do this is by telling the truth. This will also ensure that no one is hiring you under false pretences and you are likely to be happier (and survive/thrive longer) on the job. A good rule of thumb for job-hunters is: If you have to lie to get your foot in the door, this probably isn't the job for you.

The over-riding rule of body language in interviews for both men and women is that Stillness Projects Strength. You rarely see a Newsreader gesturing to camera. You don’t have to sit like a statue, but make sure you get yourself comfortable in the chair – with the base of your spine well against the seat-back – and keep your non-verbal cues relaxed and open.

Keeping your body language open and relaxed demonstrates self-assurance. You don’t have to perch nervously on the edge of your seat to display attentiveness, but slouching back and placing your hands behind your neck won’t exactly endear you to the interviewer either.

In most settings, your legs will be hidden below the table, so you can cross and un-cross your legs at will. If your legs are visible, an ankle cross is generally deemed acceptable, the typical alpha-male ankle-to-knee cross is not.

BODIES TALK, WHO LISTENS?
Sharon Stone's famous interview scene in Basic Instinct
in which she left no one in any doubt as to who was in charge

FAQ: "What should I do with my hands?"

Well, crossing your arms is a definite and obvious no-no. Try resting your hands in your lap or leave one on your leg and the other on the armrest of your chair (don't grip too tightly!) Play with this until you find a couple of comfortable positions. Interlacing your fingers briefly or rubbing your palms slowly together are usually signs of deep thought; scratching your head is less acceptable. If you have a notebook with you, put it on the table. You can hold your pen, but don't 'fiddle' with it.

First Impressions
Are first impressions - the smile, the posture, the handshake - meaningless trivial pleasantries or life-and-death moments? Try doing these badly and see what you think. The handshake: To crush or not to crush? Hold the handshake for two or three beats and try and match the other person's pressure - unless they are obviously trying to crush your hand, in which case trying to out-macho an Alpha-male silverback is probably not the smart move. Maintain eye contact for the handshake until you are aware of the colour of the other person's eyes.

Eye Contact
Don't stare the interviewers down, but you should talk to them for 66 to 75 per cent of the time while you are answering. This is more difficult to maintain in a panel interview setting where you have to sweep back and forth - your aim is to engage your audience and try to make everyone feel included.

There's all sorts of theories about what is going on when you break eye contact while you are speaking. As a general rule, a trained interviewer will not be impressed if they have asked you a fact-based question and you look to your left. (The inference is that you are drawing on the right side, the creative side of your brain by doing this - in other words, you're making your answer up as you go along.) Most people tend to look to the right when they are drawing facts out of their memory.

A good time to maintain very close eye contact is when they are asking the question - to ensure that you have picked it up fully and correctly. You can non-verbally demonstrate that you are listening as well - head inclined to the side, a little smile or nod. Be obviously alert and interested while they are talking. You can back this up verbally with little "uh-uh" and "mmmm" noises. Reinforce their impression of your alertness and intelligence by echoing their language of specific terminology back at them as the interview progresses - this is particularly effective when you are asking questions at the end of the interview.

Irritators
Gesticulation rarely accomplishes what you intend. Be aware of your usual pattern and practise to get it down to an effective minimum. Occasional, strong and slow are your watchwords for gesturing.

Silence has a place in interview. You don't have to, nor should you, jump in straight away with a response to their question. Also, your voice is a fundamental asset at interview. It is critical that you use the appropriate words, but most listeners will take more from how you say it rather than the micro-specifics of what you say. Exercise your voice. Practise with different emphases, pauses and pacing. A little work here can make a huge difference. Pay particular attention to pace - most candidates speak far too rapidly at interview.

Licking lips, stamping feet, playing with jewellery or hair, touching your nose, leaning suddenly forward to make your point. Most of us have at least one physical 'tic'. Find yours and kill them off.

Sighing or blowing air out through your pursed lips are indicators of a problem question that is giving you real pause for thought. You may want to deliberately give that impression once or twice, but no more than that.

It's probably fair to say that very few people relish the idea of giving an account of themselves in a job interview. We all experience nervousness and we all manifest it in different ways. Remember Tigger, the bouncy, flouncy, pouncy tiger from the Winnie the Pooh stories? Personally, I don't particularly want to meet Tigger when I'm interviewing candidates for a management position. It happens so often: you read the CV and like what you see; you meet the candidate who is confident and beautifully-turned out; they sit down and the opening of the interview goes well; but then you get into some below-the-surface probes and suddenly, Tigger is in the room!

Even a well-trained interviewer will find it hard to focus on what you are saying if your body language is pinging all over the place. If the overriding rule of body language is that stillness projects strength, the corollary to that rule is: if the non-verbal cue does not reinforce the verbal message, don't use it. The majority of us are blissfully unaware of our physical presence and its impact - just look at how people react when they hear themselves on tape or see themselves on camera for the first time. "Do I really sound like that?" or "I don't have that many chins, do I?"

BE CAREFUL, FUNNY MAY BE A RISKY APPROACH

GRAHAM NORTON: Leave the jokes to the professionals

SHOULD you use humour or tell jokes in an interview? Using humour or not depends on the nature of the role (are you being interviewed for a sales or an undertaker’s job?), the interviewer’s style and you. Many candidates use humour out of nervousness, thinking that it will mask their discomfort.

For an entry-level position, you risk coming across as a smart-Alec or as not taking the process sufficiently seriously. For a more senior position, you may be perceived as not having sufficient gravitas. So, humour can be a very risky approach to take. However, if the interviewer is adopting a breezy style and injecting some humour, it may be appropriate for you to respond in kind.

But it will only be a useful tool for you if you have the ability to use your wit to make your points more memorable and the ability to closely gauge the interviewer’s reaction and modify your approach accordingly. You should look for a meaningful benefit to any approach that you decide to take at interview and humour is no exception.

Becoming Aware of Your Physical Self
Grab a tolerant friend and a video camera and tape yourselves having a conversation. Watch the playback and note body language or phrases that might irritate. Then do the same for an interview dry-run (this can be a useful practice for a speech or presentation too). Play the tape back at high speed and it will reveal any bad physical habits. You will have to listen very carefully to spot the verbal ones.

There is nothing phoney about practising for an interview - if you had a spoken part in a play, you would be in rehearsal for weeks. Getting the unfamiliar language of the interview flowing smoothly from your mouth takes a lot of practice, you have to get the lexicon of the interview into your vocal memory. The greatest public speakers all rehearse extensively in advance of an important event. If you think someone is speaking very well 'off the cuff', the likelihood is they have put a massive amount of work into their speech.

If knowledge is power, then self knowledge and an awareness of how you are perceived in the interview setting is a vital trump card. Most candidates give a great deal of thought to how they represent themselves in writing (the CV) and in person (the interview suit, the hair, the make-up). Do your homework and start applying that kind of clinical thinking to the much larger physical representation that you give of yourself once the interview begins and you will dramatically increase your chances of success.

Rowan Manahan's Where's My Oasis? The Essential Handbook for Everyone Wanting that Perfect Job is published by Vermillion (a division of Random House), details: www.fortifyservices.com

Original article here

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