How to make a good impression at a job interview
A lot is at stake at a job interview, and it is easy to let the nerves get to you. Unconsciously you might be sending out the wrong signals through your physical behaviour, expressions, and mannerisms. This article will help you understand how others interpret your body language and give you advice on how you can refine your non-verbal communication.
We have talked to Per-Einar Binder, professor of psychology at the University of Bergen, for advice on to how prepare for a job interview. When we meet people for the first time, we quickly size each other up.
“It only takes seconds to form a first impression! First, we perceive kindness, and whether this person is interested in contact, says Per-Einar Binder.”
Research shows there are three things we pay attention to whenforming an impression of a person we meet for the first time: friendliness, competence, and attractiveness.
“In a job interview, it is primarily the first two points that are important. Many people might prioritise showing their qualifications when they are at a job interview, but kindness is also important. A workplace is a social arena, where you lunch together and work in teams. Even though attractiveness does not play a big role in a job interview, it is still important to dress well and appear well-groomed.”
“Can you reverse a negative first impression?”
“It depends on the mistake. If you have just come across as very nervous it is possible, as the other person probably will understand that you are in an exposed position.
If, on the other hand, you appear unfriendly or dismissive, it will be tougher to recover from a bad impression. You would have put some effort into correcting the first impression and in explaining why there was a misunderstanding.”
Why do we get nervous?
In a job interview, it is natural for most people to feel nervous.
“Emotionally, something is at risk; we want that job. We humans want to be liked. In a job interview, we are assessed on several points that are important to us, both how likeable we are and our qualifications. The threat of potentially being rejected is an experience of shame, and it makes us nervous.”
Fortunately, the the nervousness does not have to be all negative, since it also signals that the outcome of the situation is of great importance to you.
The downside is that the more you pay attention to how you are perceived, the more nervous you tend to become.
“You don’t fall asleep when you’re nervous, you are awake and sharp. To a certain extent, there is an expectation of nervousness in an interview, as this shows the interviewers that we aren’t indifferent to the result of the process.”
“How does nervousness affect those sitting on the other side of the table, the interviewers?”
“People will react differently. A good boss will empathise if a person is nervous. The boss may however wonder if this nervousness will affect your ability to perform the job duties, or if it is just related to this particular situation. In some cases, they may be looking for a person with good self-control. In some professions good self-control is extra important, for example pilots. But if someone interviewing you turns you down because you seemed a little nervous, theyare probably a boss you wouldn’t want to have anyway.”
What your body language reveals
Nervousness doesn’t only affect our thoughts, it also affects how our bodies behave. The big question is whether there is any good advice for diminishing nervousness. Binder explains that it can be useful to feel physically present in your own body.
“A good trick is to have both feet on the ground, as a counterweight to fluttering thoughts. Both feet firmly on the ground will give out an impression of solidity.”
Our posture also sends a clear signal to the others in the room.
“Try to have an open and relaxed body language. Avoid having your arms crossed. You should try to sit with your back straight, but without appearing too stiff. Don’t lean backwards, if you do others might perceive it as if you are not taking the interview seriously. You can lean forward at times, but if you do it all the time, you may be perceived as a little too intense.”
Make eye contact with everyone
It is very important to try to make eye contact with everyone present, but without staring.
“If there are many people at the interview, it can be demanding with eye contact. But it is important to try to make it happen. Make sure you have eye contact with other people than the boss, as it might be one of the other participants who potentially become your closest manager.”
When we meet a person we like, we tend to unconsciously mirror or imitate the other’s body language. This is, however, not something you should try to do intentionally.
“If you consciously aim at mirroring the person interviewing you, you might be interpreted as someone who tries a little too hard to fit in. You are therefore advised not to think too much about mirroring body language.”
If you have established a good connection with the person you are talking to, you will automatically reflect that person's body language.
Many interviews have taken place digitally instead of physically during the last year. Body language also plays an important role in digital interviews.
“Position yourself in front of the camera so that your face is clearly visible, but at the same time far enough away to show some off your body language. If you sit too close to the screen you can come across as a bit too intense, as it is more comfortable to watch someone from a little distance.”
The industry dictates the rules
How body language is perceived always depends on the context, and your behaviour should therefore be adjusted to fit the specific situation. The emotional connection to the people present, and the content of the conversation plays a big role. The appropriate way to dress and behave in a job interview, is to a large extent dictated by the industry you are applying for a job in.
“The last element of first impressions is attractiveness. In a job interview, attractiveness comes down to being well-dressed, clean and presentable, appearing suitable for the job. It is not a good idea to wear a suit to an interview for a part-time job at a nursing home. Nor is a leather jacket and tousled hair the ideal look if you are trying to get a job in a bank. You have to adhere the industry standard, without exaggerating. In most cases, you will be best off if those who conducted the interview did make notice of what you were wearing.”
Nervousness reinforces bad habits
Most people have unconscious habits that can disrupt the message we want to convey in a job interview.
“Are there any common ‘body language mistakes’ people make, and why do we make them?”
“Some people tend fidget, while others might scratch violently - we all have our own issues! Be aware that these traits increase when we are nervous. You should be careful about nodding and gesturing too much, as it can seem confusing to the recipient. It is smart to rehearse the interview situation with a friend, and even recording it on film. That way you can identify your nervous movements, which will enable you to stifle or get rid of them.”
Work-related discussions will help you relax
To minimise nervousness, Binder thinks it is important to be well prepared for the interview. If you have good knowledge of the company and have a clear idea on how you can contribute to the workplace, it might be easier to focus on the topics being discussed, instead of the interview situation itself.
“Talking about work-related topics and what you consider to be important, will help you shift focus away from yourself, and the interview will no longer only be a self-marketing event.”
Binder sees this as a win-win situation where you get to present who you are and what you stand for. When talking about something you are passionate about, the nervousness may also become more appealing to others.
“If the interview revolved around work-related issues, and your competence and ideas simply did not match what the employer was looking for, a possible rejection might even be easier to handle, Per-Einar Binder concludes.”