Silently Sealing the Deal: Nonverbal Interview Communication

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Published on October 31, 2018, at 3:45 p.m.
by McClelland Schilling.

When preparing for an interview, interviewees spend countless hours researching the company, preparing for anticipated questions and picking out the perfect interview outfit. While these are all important and those who wish to execute a successful interview should dedicate time to these areas, there is another critical area that is frequently overlooked: nonverbal communication.

Nailing the interview and securing one’s dream job go beyond saying the right things and wearing the right pantsuit; what is communicated nonverbally will heavily weigh in the outcome of an interview.

A basic definition describes nonverbal communication to be communication that does not use spoken language. However, there are numerous layers to nonverbal communication, including and not limited to accent, tone, facial expressions and eye contact. All of these moving parts make up between 60 and 90 percent of what people communicate on a daily basis.

With so much of what we communicate being nonverbal, it is imperative to have a basic understanding of this area of communication and to be aware of personal nonverbal tendencies. This is especially important in an interview setting where interviewees only have a limited amount of time to communicate who they are and to leave a positive impression.

When preparing nonverbal skills for an interview, there are many aspects that need to be considered. For instance, what does the competitive landscape look like? How highly sought after is the position? In the case of a highly competitive interview process where interviewees exhibit similar verbal behavior and job qualifications, an interviewee’s nonverbal skills may determine whether or not they get the job.

It’s also important to consider how the interview will be conducted. The type of interview (Skype, phone call, in-person, etc.) determines the number of verbal cues that will be available to the interviewer. The number of cues that are interpreted will impact the overall impression the interviewer has of the interviewee.

With there being so many areas of which to be aware, it can be difficult to narrow the focus to what is most important for the environment of interviewing. Mary Loyd Lowery, director of career education/development at The University of Alabama’s Career Center, suggests the most important areas of nonverbal communication are professional appearance (attire, grooming), eye contact, facial expressions, posture, handshake and body language.

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Lowery explained how these areas can affect the impression that is communicated with the interviewer. “Your nonverbal communication can contribute to the interviewer seeing you as professional, confident, pleasant and respectful,” Lowery said. “If you arrive to an interview dressed inappropriately or demonstrate lack of confidence, no interest, or lack of respect at any point in the interview, the employer is likely to pass on you and hire another.”

Once the basics of nonverbal (handshake, posture, etc.) have been mastered, an additional step can be taken: aligning nonverbal communication with what is being communicated verbally. Dr. Darrin J. Griffin, assistant professor and director of the C&IS Human Communication Research Laboratory at The University of Alabama, says the key is to ask yourself if your nonverbal communication is complimenting, corresponding and corroborating the message that you’re saying verbally.

“The key is not to be deceptive, but whenever you say something, if you want to say it verbally with authority, confidence, credibility or trustworthiness, is to show it,” Dr. Griffin explained. “Perception is a reality, that’s the key. You want to be able to make sure you create a congruent message verbally and nonverbally.”

Dr. Griffin used an experience of a past interview as an example. He asked a candidate whether or not he had liked his previous job. The candidate responded that he did like his past job but while doing so he shrugged. This nonverbal communication contradicted his answer and led Dr. Griffin to question if the candidate was being completely honest.

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Interviewees should be cautious and aware of the messages their nonverbal cues send to the interviewer because these cues can interfere with their verbal messages. To ensure messages are being translated as intended, all channels of communication should align with one another.

In order to avoid making nonverbal mishaps, candidates should devote time to practicing their nonverbal skills in order to strengthen them. An easy place to start is to work on being more observant. Dr. Griffin explained the reason so many people have poor nonverbal skills is because they don’t use their eyes.

“If you’re communicating with someone and you’re looking down or looking at your phone or doing anything and you’re not looking at them, you can’t pick up the cues,” Dr. Griffin said. “You can pick up the tone in their voice from your ears, but a lot of it is coming from their face and their body movement and their orientation; if you’re not looking at it, you’re not picking it up. The antennas are their eyes, and they don’t have them tuned in.”

Lowrey suggests practicing communication skills by doing a mock interview to receive feedback on both verbal and nonverbal communication, including your handshake. She said the feedback can be applied as candidates continue to practice alone or with others. Lowrey also offered advice for candidates who worry that their nerves may interfere with what they’re trying to communicate.

“One of the best ways to calm nerves is to make sure you’re prepared prior to the interview,” Lowrey noted. “When you arrive dressed professionally and you’ve gone through a mock interview, your confidence is higher. Make sure you research the employer thoroughly and have appropriate questions to ask. Taking some deep breaths can also help. For those who talk faster when nervous, an effort should be made to slow down a bit. And, remember to smile occasionally. In addition to being positive in communication, smiling can help you relax.”

Preparing to interview for a potential new job can be overwhelming and stressful for anyone, even candidates with a large interview schema. However, having a solid understanding of nonverbal communication puts an interviewee one step ahead of their competitors by being able to demonstrate their ability as an effective communicator.

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