How To Use Nonverbal Communication in an Interview

Updated June 9, 2023

Interviews are a key, often necessary part of the job search process. Beyond your experience and skills, interviewers and recruiters want to see if your temperament and personality will fit in with the company's culture. They are evaluating how you present yourself, especially your posture, gestures, facial expressions and level of engagement.

In this article, we discuss what nonverbal communication is, its different types and how to use nonverbal communication successfully in an interview. While many factors can help you make a good impression during an interview, the suggestions in this article do not mean to imply that body language alone will make a good impression or that everyone needs to be able to use body language to convey confidence.

What is nonverbal communication?

Nonverbal communication refers to the ways you communicate to others without words. This includes your physical gestures and how you position your body, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues that send messages to other people. Generally, you're not aware of your nonverbal communication, as they are often habits and unconscious actions. Your nonverbal communication can either reinforce or contradict your spoken communication.

Read more: Examples of Nonverbal Communication in the Workplace

What are the types of nonverbal communication?

Here are several types of nonverbal communication. Keep in mind that not everyone is comfortable or able to control these communication cues.

  • Facial expressions: Facial expressions include eye movements, raising or furrowing your eyebrows and mouth movements. The benefit of using your facial expressions to communicate your feelings is that many cultures interpret facial expressions in the same ways.

  • Body movement and posture: Your body movements refer to how you position and move your body when you walk, sit, stand and position your head. These motions can communicate interest, boredom, tiredness and confidence.

  • Gestures: Gestures are movements made with your arms and hands, often used to reinforce or emphasize a point you're making. Gestures can include waving, pointing, clapping and raising your hand.

  • Eye contact: Eye contact refers to looking other people in the eye when you're speaking or when they're speaking. Depending on the nature of the situation, eye contact can communicate interest, engagement, anger or attraction. Not all cultures view eye contact in the same way, so be aware if it makes the other person uncomfortable.

  • Touch: Touch can communicate a variety of feelings, like friendliness, empathy and affection. Touch includes hugs, holding hands, a back rub and a kiss on the cheek. Touching is not viewed as inappropriate in some cultures, so be aware if it makes the other person uneasy.

  • Space: Allowing too much or too little space between you and others can send varied messages, based on the conditions. For example, standing far away from someone may indicate fear, whereas standing too close can communicate dominance.

  • Voice: Your voice refers to how you speak, meaning the volume, pace, tone and inflection you use. Your voice can communicate excitement, anger, sarcasm or confidence.

Read more: 14 Communication Strategies to Overcome Communication Barriers in the Workplace

How to use nonverbal communication in an interview

When you're in an interview, it's important to recognize and monitor what messages you're sending with your body language and other types of nonverbal communication. How you're acting should match what you're saying.

Here are steps you can use to manage your nonverbal communication in an interview:

1. Practice your nonverbal communication

Before your interview, consider having a mock interview at a career center or with a friend or family member. Ask them to evaluate your nonverbal communication to ensure you're sending the appropriate messages and not being distracting.

Related: 4 Communication Styles

2. Dress professionally

Your appearance is the first thing interviewers notice about you. Dressing professionally and having a neat, clean, well-groomed appearance can demonstrate confidence, commitment to the position and capability. To make the best impression, follow these tips:

  • Dress for the level above the position you're interviewing for

  • Wear clean, modest well-fitting clothing

  • Minimize accessories

  • Make sure your shoes are clean and free of scratches

  • Depending on the environment, consider covering tattoos or body jewelry

Read more: How to Introduce Yourself Professionally

3. Use good posture

Stand up straight, keep your head up and draw your shoulders back for optimal posture. This can communicate confidence and competence.

Read more: How To Sit During an Interview: 15 Steps and Tips

4. Only bring the essentials

When you arrive at an interview, carry in only what you need. You want to appear neat, prepared and organized. Consider bringing:

  • Portfolio or folder with copies of your cover letter, resume and references

  • Car keys

  • Notepad and pen

  • Other items requested by your interviewer or recruiter

Avoid bringing these items into your interview:

  • Gum

  • Candy

  • Cigarettes

  • Mints

  • Food or drinks

5. Keep your cell phone away

When waiting for your interviewer, review your notes and questions about the company. If you're near a receptionist or assistant, be pleasant and friendly and respond to any direct questions. Avoid using your cell phone as this can show a lack of interest or that you're distracted.

6. Express interest

Use nonverbal communication to express interest in what your interviewer and other speakers are saying. Consider the following ways to show your interest and engagement:

  • Make eye contact with your interviewer

  • Soften your features and unclench your jaw to increase your approachability

  • Nod gently to affirm what the speaker is saying

  • Smile when appropriate

  • Raise your eyebrows and tilt your head when something catches your attention

  • Lean forward in your chair

7. Be careful with your gestures

Gestures may not mean the same thing across regions or cultures. Avoid using questionable gestures and opt for less dramatic motions. Consider interlocking your fingers or keeping your hands in your lap.

8. Follow your interviewer's lead

Follow your interviewer's lead for physical contact. Common instances of touching in interviews may include shaking hands and a pat on the back. Your handshake should be firm, strong and brief. Avoid initiating further contact during your interview.

9. Manage nervous behavior

Nervousness can manifest in your body language during stressful situations like job interviews. Control your nerves by taking deep breaths, repeating a calming or empowering mantra before you arrive and practicing mindfulness.

10. Take notes

Take notes during your interview if you want to review the information later. This shows your interviewer that you take the interview seriously. Taking notes can also help you hide nervous, jittery hands.

11. End on a positive note

When the interview is complete, smile, shake hands and thank the interviewer.

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