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Welcome to this issue of our free E-zine, People Skills for Skilled People

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When professionals prepare for interviews, logically, they mostly plan what they’re going to say. But there’s a language of interviewing that is conveyed without words, yet is far more impactful than anything verbal. It’s…

The Silent Language
of Successful Interviews

Vol. 2, No. 4

Today, when you’re on the short list for any executive position, you’re one of several highly qualified candidates. In this situation, often the only thing that distinguishes you from the others is the sense your interviewers get of your “fit” with their organization. Are the interviewers looking for…

  • An outgoing CEO who can build bridges with the community?
  • A “kick-butt-and-take-names” Executive VP to get everyone on the same page?
  • An motivational leader who will build a dynamic team?
No matter what the position, the interviewers will be looking for not only skill and experience, but also that illusive thing called “fit.” And to make that final difficult decision, they’ll be listening—far more than you realize—for how you’re saying what you have accomplished than for what you’re saying. Are you making them feel comfortable with you in the interview? Energized by you? Confident in you? This is “fit”—the “you” they’re going to be living with every day!

Obviously, the sense of “fit” you convey comes through the words you say and the beliefs you hold about organizational life. But here, we’re talking about the day-to-day “fit” your colleagues are trying to predict through the interview process. Knowing that “fit” is a top-drawer item, how can you best communicate it? The most savvy interviewees know how they come across nonverbally. They know how to support their words with just the right body language and vocal presence. Interviewers may not consciously know why they feel better about one candidate over another, but often it is because of the nonverbal messages each of them sends. 

Here are some of the qualities interviewers typically look for and how you can “speak” the “silent language” of nonverbal behaviors to convey them. 

STRENGTH. Interviewers try to size up how decisive a candidate is apt to be, especially under pressure. To communicate nonverbally that you have the strength of character and will to make the tough decisions and stand by them, you’ll want to project a strong nonverbal stance. 

1. Adopt a stance (here, literally—not philosophically!) that carries your weight evenly on both feet. Dividing your weight unevenly leads to rocking and the sensation that you’re “off-base” or waffling.

2. Keep your head straight up and down—not slanted to one side—and your chin parallel to the floor. A tilted head sends a message of coyness or uncertainty, while an elevated chin unintentionally conveys arrogance. 

3. Make all arm gestures, whether you’re sitting or standing, originate from your shoulders, not from your elbows or wrists. Moving a “joint of strength,” especially the shoulders, conveys a sense of stability and power, while bending a “joint of weakness,” like the neck or the wrists, sends a message of vulnerability, instability, or indecisiveness.

4. When you need to fetch for an idea, lower, rather than raise, your eyes. The “Joan-of-Arc” upward eye movement sends the message that you’re “up-in-the-air” about the issue on the table, and can make you look uncertain.

OPENNESS. Interviewers are on the alert for how responsive and open you are. You can project an open attitude by adopting these nonverbal behaviors:

1. Constantly keep your midriff body area unobstructed throughout the interview. 

  • Don’t fold your arms across your body.
  • Don’t clasp your hands on the table in front of you.
  • Don’t lean your chin on your hands in a way that covers the front of your body.
2. Give direct body facing. In a group interview, when one interviewer asks a question, turn your whole upper body toward that person. 

3. Give full eye contact. While a question is being asked and during the opening part of your answer, look directly at your questioner. Then extend your eye contact to every member of the committee as you complete your answer. 

Here’s a hot tip: when establishing eye contact with someone, focus on the color of his or her eyes. This conveys interest in that person and builds rapport, without giving him or her the sensation of being “bored into.”

4. Learn to "talk through a smile." This doesn't mean grinning through the interview, but simply adopting a pleasant look. Facial expression counts for 28% of your impact in any interpersonal situation, so let your interviewers know you're a person who is easy to work with.

TRUST. Your interviewers have to feel they can rely on you and believe you. Here are some powerful nonverbal ways to convey your personal credibility: 

1. Make sure your interviewers can see both of your hands at all times. Hands in your lap or under the table may be good social dinner etiquette, but it's disaster in an interview. 

2. Show the palms of your hands as often as is comfortable for you. 

3. Keep your eye contact steady, avoiding quick eye shifts. 

4. Keep your hands away from your face, especially your eyes and mouth, because this can imply that you are hiding something. 

COMMITMENT. Interviewers are on guard for candidates who seem too eager—or even remotely desperate—for a job, but want someone who truly cares about their organization and is excited to get started. How do you achieve the proper balance between commitment and coolness? This can be a critical deciding factor. To communicate commitment nonverbally:

1. Lean in toward your interviewers about a quarter of an inch.

2. Put your forearms on the edge of the table.

3. Register excitement on your face. 

This is no time for a contemplative style. Most interviewers are looking for an energetic, action-oriented executive.

COMPETENCE. In an interview, nothing will ever substitute for competence and professionalism. However, far too many competent professionals who could be fine leaders are denied the chance to contribute their talents to the organization because they send nonverbal messages that contradict the very qualities that interviewers are looking for. 

Do yourself and your prospective organization a great favor. Study your nonverbal behaviors. Make sure that your body and your words are in total alignment. 

Don’t let what’s silent talk against your future!

And that's our tip on People Skills for Skilled People for today!

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