Why Non-Verbal Communication is Crucial in an Interview

Written By: Deidre Donnelly

It takes seven to 17 seconds to form a first impression of someone – hardly enough time to form a sentence. So your body language can make or break a job interview.

 

“Actions speak louder than words”, goes the cliché. Those words stick around because they contain a kernel of truth – especially when you consider non-verbal communication.

In the seconds it takes to form a first impression, research shows we form our opinion as follows:

  • 7% is based on what others say.
  • 38% is determined by their tone of voice.
  • 93% is based on non-verbal input, like body language.

In other words, nearly 100% of first impressions are formed from aspects other than speech. This is why, in addition to preparing how you’ll respond to questions during a job interview, you should also pay attention to what your body language, and actions, may be silently saying for you.

WHAT IS NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION?

Non-verbal communication refers to all the wordless cues and clues people send and receive in everyday encounters.

Unlike verbal communication, non-verbal is continuous. We don’t start and stop giving off these cues, as we do when we say a sentence or tell a story. Non-verbal communication often expresses our true feelings better than our words, and it’s harder to control. For this reason, we subconsciously tend to believe it more. (Picture someone saying “I’m fine” as they bang their mug on the table. Which are you likely to trust – the action or the words?).

Non-verbal communication includes body language, but that’s not all. There’s also:

  • SILENCE: Taking time before you answer can show contemplation, but too long may indicate boredom or suggest you’re not that ‘on the ball’.
  • PARALANGUAGE: The way you say things, like your pitch and tone of voice, hesitations and your rate of speaking, etc.
  • KINESICS: The official word for body language, which includes your posture, gestures, gait, etc. To evoke a feeling of rapport, you can subtly mirror someone’s body language as you speak with them. You can also practise power poses before an interview.
  • FACIAL EXPRESSIONS AND EYE BEHAVIOUR: While certain micro-expressions are universal, the unspoken ‘rules’ for eye contact can vary from culture to culture. Try keep your expression open and confident, and avoid excessive blinking – a sign of nervousness.
  • HAPTICS: This refers to touch. Avoid touching your interviewer. It could be culturally inappropriate or may be seen as overly ‘chummy’ or even condescending.
  • PROXEMICS AND TERRITORIALITY: Space considerations include not putting your seat too close to your interviewer; giving them ‘room to breathe’. Getting into someone’s space is viewed as offensive or aggressive.
  • CLOTHING AND ACCESSORIES: Dress professionally, depending on the role and industry. Pay attention to grooming (clean fingernails, neat hair etc.)
  • OBJECTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT: If you walk in carrying a sloppy bag, overflowing with messy papers, and take out a chewed pen after fishing out loose till slips and so on, you’ll appear disorganised.
  • CHRONEMICS: This means time. People and cultures differ on what’s considered rudely late. But for an interview, even in a more relaxed location, being late could lead to a bad fate.

One survey found that interviewers take less than seven minutes (six minutes and 25 seconds, to be exact), on average, to decide whether a candidate is right for the job. With that startling figure in mind, here’s some other non-verbal behaviour to avoid:

  • A limp handshake
  • Your cellphone ringing
  • Looking out the window, not listening
  • Smelling like the alcohol you drank the night before
  • Making yourself small (body language), avoiding eye contact or slumping on your chair
  • Fidgeting, pen clicking or restless leg twitching

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