During an interview, apart from experience and skills, your way of presenting yourself is also crucial. It applies to both the style of expression (verbal communication) and body language (non-verbal communication). The second one allows recruiters to predict whether a candidate’s temperament and personality match the company’s culture. This article discusses what non-verbal communication is, and how to practice it when you prepare for a job interview.

What is non-verbal communication 

Non-verbal communication refers to ways of communicating that don’t include words. It can be body language, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, the physical distance between communicators and other non-verbal cues that we send out to the people. 

Elements of non-verbal communication are the best indicators of our emotional state. This wide range of signals creates context and completes information about a candidate during job interviews. 

The importance of non-verbal communication 

People aren’t always aware of their non-verbal communication as it is usually the result of habits and unconscious actions. In addition, it is largely driven by emotions and instincts, and we have less control over it than verbal communication. 

Meanwhile, non-verbal communication is a powerful tool that can and should be mastered. You can strengthen verbal communication by giving extra meaning to what you say. So, when you prepare for a job interview, keep in mind the four key functions of non-verbal communication:

Functions of non-verbal communication according to K. Scherer and H. Wallbott: 1. semantic – shaping the verbal message by using proper accents, references and contradictions 2. syntactic – highlighting the conversation phases (e.g. by eye contact to start a conversation) and synchronising the interlocutors (e.g. by proper distance or body position) 3. pragmatic – influencing interlocutor's behaviour and emphasising belonging to a given group (e.g. by specific clothes or gestures) 4. conversation regulation – organising the conversation flow

When non-verbal cues match the words you say, they increase trust and strengthen relationships; however, when they contradict each other, they can cause tension and distrust.  

What you should know before a job interview 

Most of us believe that words have the most significant communicative power. And although, of course, they are of great importance, the messages we convey without their help play a much more critical role. 

According to the American psychologist Ray Birdwhistell, non-verbal messages constitute as much as 65% of communication. On the other hand, anthropologist Albert Mehrabian even stated that in the process of interpersonal communication, words convey only 7% of the information, and non-verbal behaviour and the tone of voice are the rest. 

Based on their research, Mehrabian and Birdwhistell developed The Principle of Effective Communication 60/30/10, of which: 

  • 60% is body language 
  • 30% is the way we speak
  • 10% is the content of what we say 
60/30/10 Principle of Effective Communication by A. Mehrabian and R. Birdwhistell:
– 60% – body language: postures, eye contact, mimics, gestures, clothing
– 30% – how we speak: tone of voice, speaking speed, speaking fluency 
– 10% – what we say: content, story

During the interview, a crucial role plays not only what you express in words but also your manner. Compassion, interest, and kind expression are positive signs of non-verbal communication 

How to prepare for a job interview

An interview is an essential part of a job search process. However, there is no magic recipe for success in this field. The key is genuine interest in the work and the company which you will show to the interviewer. Additional advantages are naturalness and self-confidence.

It is worth preparing for this meeting to achieve the best results so that nervousness does not destroy your chances. Learning to be more relaxed will help both during a job interview and in your daily interactions in the office after you secure the desired position. 

During a conversation, you must control the signals you send out using your body language. How you act should correspond to what you say. You can also expect additional questions, thanks to which the recruiter will confront the obtained answers with the observed behaviours. In order to remain aware of your behaviour, it is worth learning about the types of non-verbal communication.

What are the types of non-verbal communication 

  • Body movement and posture – refers to how you position and move your body as you walk, sit, stand and position your head. 
  • Gestures – hand movements that are often used to enhance or emphasise something that’s talked about. 
  • Facial expressions – includes eye movements, eyebrow lifting or frown and mouth movements. 
  • Eye contact – refers to looking somebody in their eye during the conversation. 
  • Voice – expresses how you speak, i.e., the volume, speed, fluency, tempo, pitch and inflection that you use. 
  • Touch – when shaking hands, i.e., can convey various feelings such as kindness, empathy and sympathy. 
  • Space – depending on the conditions, leaving too much or too little space between you and others may send different messages. 

How you feel during the interview will most likely determine the non-verbal cues you give; for example, if you are nervous and unsure of yourself, you will probably be fidgeting and avoiding eye contact

9 ways to use non-verbal communication in an interview

The interview is about selling yourself and your skills, and selling is about getting the potential customer to buy you.

1. Say hello by shaking hands

9 ways to use non-verbal communication in an interview: 1. Say hello by shaking hands

Remember that walking next to the reception desk to the chat room or conference room can make an impression. When greeting, make sure your handshake is not too flaccid or too strong – it should be firm and short. Be confident but not overwhelming. Avoid initiating physical contact when the interview starts – follow the recruiter

2. Smile and make eye contact 

9 ways to use non-verbal communication in an interview: 2. Smile and make eye contact 

An interview is stressful and absorbs a lot of mental energy. Candidates are usually so focused on answering questions skillfully that they forget to do the most obvious thing – smile. 

Smiling at someone has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to get liked and appear open and, most importantly, relaxed. 

The smile softens the facial features and relaxes the jaw. Making eye contact for the first few seconds is an excellent way to show that you’re comfortable. 

3. Have a positive attitude and express interest 

9 ways to use non-verbal communication in an interview: 3. Have a positive attitude and express interest
  • listen actively, e.g. nod your head gently to confirm what the speaker is saying; 
  • smile at the right moments, but don’t overdo it; 
  • raise your eyebrows and tilt your head when something catches your attention; 
  • lean forward slightly to show that you are engaged in the conversation; 
  • take notes from time to time to show that you are taking the conversation seriously – they can be helpful in case of an opportunity to ask a question, and they can also help hide anxiety. 

In addition: do not yawn, slouch or lean back – you don’t want to appear too relaxed. 

4. Keep your body posture straight and relaxed 

9 ways to use non-verbal communication in an interview: 4. Keep your body posture straight and relaxed 

The ideal posture is created with your shoulders pulled back to keep your back straight. Then, when you sit down, rest your lower back against the back of the chair. 

Leaning back too much may make the candidate seem uninterested and perched on the edge of a chair that he is excessively nervous. On the other hand, leaning forward slightly during the interview process may show commitment, but make sure you don’t rely on it too much. Staying away from someone may indicate anxiety, while standing too close may communicate domination.

Put your legs on the ground (or cross them at the ankles); this will show not only your confidence and will also prevent your feet from tapping. In addition, experts say keeping both feet straight on the ground helps answer questions better. 

5. Manage nervous behaviour 

9 ways to use non-verbal communication in an interview: 5. Manage nervous behaviour 

During an interview, despite being aware of your body, our nervousness can get out of hand and even get the better of you. Nevertheless, try to: 

  • stay calm and keep emotions in check; 
  • not get upset when asked about something difficult; 
  • keep a steady tone (don’t speak too loud or too softly).

Before speaking, it’s a good idea to do a nerve check before talking by taking deep breaths, repeating a calming or empowering mantra, or practising mindfulness.

Also, knowing what a recruitment process looks like can give you a better peace of mind during the interview. See if an employer described the process in a job offer.

6. Gesture moderately 

9 ways to use non-verbal communication in an interview: 6. Gesture moderately 

Gestures are the elements of non-verbal communication we most commonly use – both consciously and unconsciously. Gestures can help express various emotional states, replace words and help describe multiple situations. With some hand signals, speech looks more natural.

However, don’t overdo it – avoid using ambiguous gestures and dramatic movements. Make sure your movements are steady and in control. If you feel that you are having a hard time keeping them under control, it is good to braid your fingers to keep them occupied. 

Non-verbal messages are subjected to individual interpretation. Especially gestures, because they cannot be given a specific meaning. Gestures may vary by region or culture and may not be the same. Remember about cultural differences. 

7. Keep your hands visible 

9 ways to use non-verbal communication in an interview: 7. Keep your hands visible 

What to do with your hands is often a challenge, so keep them at least visible if you’re not sure. For example, if there is a desk or table in the chat room, put it there. Otherwise, consider keeping your hands slightly entwined in your lap or at the sides of your body. 

Avoid crossing hands behind your back or pointing at anything that might be perceived as rude or even aggressive. Also, make sure that you do not use your hands to play with your hair, glasses or jewellery during the conversation, as it may indicate nervousness (even if it’s not). 

8. Dress appropriately 

9 ways to use non-verbal communication in an interview: 8. Dress appropriately 

When you prepare for a job interview, remember that appearance is the first thing that catches the eye. Professional clothing and a neat and well-groomed appearance can show respect, commitment, interest in a given position and the opportunities associated with it. 

Ensure that the chosen outfit fits well and does not restrict your movements and gestures. Also: 

  • dress a level higher than the position you are applying for; 
  • make sure your shoes are clean and undamaged; 
  • pin-up or tie your hair up so that it does not cover your face; 
  • limit jewellery, fringes, and other distracting accessories (chances are you’ll play with them when you’re nervous or under pressure). 

9. End with a cheerful accent 

9 ways to use non-verbal communication in an interview: 9. End with a cheerful accent 

It is worth being aware of your exit. After the interview, make sure you get positive when saying goodbye. Smile and meet the recruiter’s gaze shaking hands. The meeting doesn’t end until you leave the room, so don’t let your facial expression or attitude change at the last minute.

How to prepare for a job interview – summary

The best way to get to know your non-verbal communication is to practice answering questions and becoming aware of what you say. So when you prepare for a job interview, it’s a good idea to exercise with a friend, family member, a mentor, or even in front of a mirror. 

And if you need some last minute interview tips – here’s one: record yourself to practice for the interview. Then review the recording to learn how to make verbal communication calmer and more confident. Finally, practise your introductory speech by repeating it until it is fluent.

You can also try a mini-game created by us, thanks to which you will train your facial expressions and see how your interlocutors perceive your emotions! The game is called Emotionometer, and you can find it at this link: Play the Emotionometer.

We hope that our advices will help you become more aware of your non-verbal messages and their importance in communication. Mastering your body language will not only make it easier for you to get your dream job, but it will also help you with networking once you do.