When it comes to job interviews, you'd be right to presume your stellar CV, personal presentation and, more importantly, how well you answer questions could land you the position.
But your mannerisms and gestures could be holding you back. In fact, they can reveal much about you, even if you don’t want them to — both positive and negative. And, most of the time we don’t even realise we’re doing them.
A foot turned inward might suggest you’re insecure (Credit: Getty Images)
Conscious or unconscious, repeated behaviour like batting your eyes, twisting your ring or touching your hair, may influence the recruiter on the other side of the table more than you think. As Isabel Schuermann, an image consultant and etiquette trainer based near Frankfurt, says, “Your body cannot not communicate.”
A lack of eye contact, for instance, may send a signal that you’re hard to trust
A lack of eye contact, for instance, may send a signal that you’re hard to trust, or a foot turned inward might suggest you’re insecure.
When two executives worked with a coach to improve their interviewing skills, they saw themselves on video as “bobble-headed” job candidates during a mock interview. Janice Burch, the career coach, said the executives were “absolutely blown away”. Burch, who is the co-owner of Pro Resume Center in the Milwaukee area in Wisconsin, in the US, recalls, “I think we got up to 300 head nods for one executive in half an hour.”
As part of her work preparing people to move up a rung on the career ladder, Burch shows clients the mannerisms and gestures they may not even know they have.
Interviewers look for sincerity and knowledge through appropriate eye contact (Credit: Alamy)
The good news is that you can rid yourself of unwanted mannerisms and behaviours. Like with the two executives, awareness is the first step. But, be warned, it’s harder to tame those quirks when you're nervous. Here’s what you can do:
Facing your quirks
Once you’ve acknowledged your mannerisms, it’s time to curb them. Perform role play and practice speaking to an interviewer until the nervous gestures are under control. For instance, you may reduce the amount of time you spending cracking your knuckles, picking your cuticles, or staring down your conversation partner. Others suggest acknowledging your quirk when it arises.
Try to control nervous gestures such as picking your cuticles (Credit: Alamy)
Daniela Lehmann-Stein, who leads a human resources team at Nielsen in Frankfurt, says that while she's had interview training, she resists checklist-style thinking in which she mentally ticks off a box that says “no annoying quirks or mannerisms.” Instead, Lehmann-Stein, who has hired dozens of people during 17 years in HR roles in multinational companies, wants to get to know a candidate and see how the person handles the situation if something becomes distracting.
Authenticity is very important
“Authenticity is very important. If someone describes him or herself as very open and then at the same time he or she is sitting in a very closed position, with shoulders and arms very tight to the body, then this would come across as a contradiction. But it’s not like I’m screening the candidate all the time trying to detect mismatches,” she says.
At the same time, Lehmann-Stein says she’s often impressed when people openly address a physical reaction they may be having in a certain situation.
“Sometimes it’s helpful to be aggressive about it. If I know that I get red spots on my face or neck when I’m nervous, and this concerns me, then I could address it and say, ‘Even though I am blushing now, I am not as easily shaken as it may seem. I have been able to demonstrate my resilience in various situations.’ It may be helpful to address it and get it over with it instead of thinking, ‘Oh, am I blushing now, do they see it?’” Lehmann-Stein says.
When quirks cannot be cloaked, try addressing them with a bit of humour (Credit: Alamy)
Likewise, if that quirk you have cannot be cloaked, perhaps the best way to handle it is through humour. “I wish that candidates would be more authentic and more courageous in these regards,” says Lehmann-Stein. “It requires a certain degree of self-reflection in order to be able to present myself – quirks and all. If I know I have a tendency to bat my eyelids quickly, I can handle it in a humorous way.”
Why we do it?
Nervous gestures often have a psychological origin, Burch says. In other words, if you can identify the cause, you can minimise the unwanted mannerism. For instance, sometimes the cause is insecurity from not feeling prepared, Burch says. She has seen how some clients have overcome this by being well prepared for the interview. “This will make an enormous difference in your overall presentation when you’re in the interview,” Burch says.
The overall impression you leave will most likely be stronger than the lingering memory of a particular mannerism
The overall impression you leave will most likely be stronger than the lingering memory of a particular mannerism, Schuermann says. Your interviewer's main concern isn’t how and why you rub your hands together frequently. It's how you will represent the company with your complete package of talents, skills, and yes, even quirks.
The whole package
If you’re lucky, you might get an interviewer like Schuermann, who looks at the candidate as a whole. “You should never ever interpret just one gesture. You need four to five clues to come up with an interpretation,” Schuermann says.
Recruiters look at a candidate's overall package of talents and skills, as well as his or her quirks (Credit: Alamy)
Long interested in body language, Schuermann recently took a course about interpreting micro expressions on the face, something she incorporates into her interview technique. She will purposefully ask questions, such as, “I have just seen in your face this and that, and from my point of view, it seems you have some doubts.” This allows Schuermann to engage the other person in a conversation about what it is he or she would really like to communicate.
In the end, most decisions to hire are based on a wide range of factors. Recalling her days in HR, leadership, and development at Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, Schuermann says, “The candidate who got the job was not only brilliant in the technicals but was good in personality, knew how to engage in small talk and understood how to manage people and communicate with charisma.”