Body language in job interviews: The power of non-verbal communication
Idioms such as 'to be down in the mouth', 'to have one's feet on the ground' and 'to show some backbone' all have their equivalents in German, illustrating the importance that we attach to non-verbal communication. Below you will find some tips on what to bear in mind regarding your body language at job interviews.
Words are not the only means of communication used by applicants and interviewers. The non-verbal signals transmitted through body language are just as important. Your overall body language, which includes your posture, gestures and facial expressions, has as much of a bearing on the interviewer's impression of you as your qualifications and what you say. Below you will find some tips on what to bear in mind when interacting with a German interviewer.
An upright posture communicates openness and strength of character
Try to walk into the room relaxed, but purposeful, with your chin raised slightly. Stand straight with both feet firmly on the floor during introductions. It is customary in Germany to shake hands with the interviewer; a firm handshake is a sign of confidence.
Remain in an upright posture when you sit down, as this will give your voice good resonance. Try to avoid slouching in your chair, twiddling your thumbs or touching your face. At such an important meeting, any nervousness you feel should not be apparent from your body language.
What should you do with your legs? It is best to either keep your legs about hip-width apart or cross one over the other in a relaxed manner. If opting for the latter, ensure that you cross your legs in the direction of the interviewer as a sign of being engaged in the conversation.
Positive gestures and facial expressions form part of a successful interview technique
Another important element of positive body language is the correct use of gestures and facial expressions. Make sure you are looking at the interviewer, as this will make it clear that you are listening to him or her. Nodding your head occasionally is another important signal, showing that you acknowledge what the interviewer is saying. Whatever you do, you should avoid gazing aimlessly around the room or looking at the time.
Rest your hands on your lap and turn your palms upwards every now and again. The interviewer will unconsciously perceive this as a sign of openness and of you having something to offer, such as the ability to do the job well. That being said, you should avoid making dramatic movements with your arms, as Germans tend to associate such gestures with uncertainty.
These are all things you can practise before your job interview. Above all, you should aim to be authentic in your body language. If you are reserved, do not gesticulate wildly; if you are an extrovert, do not be unnaturally reserved.
Different cultural perceptions of body language
Silent, but ever present, body language can be a make-or-break issue in job interviews across a whole range of cultures. Here are a few cultural differences that you should bear in mind at your next interview:
In Western cultures, eye contact signifies openness, but in Japan it is considered unpleasant. Americans and Europeans often take it as a sign of disinterest when a Japanese person lowers their head and closes their eyes during an interview, yet to the Japanese, this is a sign of great respect. When attending a job interview in Germany, you need not hesitate to look the interviewer in the eye.
There are also cultural differences in the way hand gestures are used. Italians, for instance, make far greater use of hand gestures than the British. The hand- and arm-waving that some Asians find unbearable is valued by Latin Americans as a sign that the speaker is passionate about their subject. Arabs are known for making even more dramatic arm gestures to emphasise their every word. For job interviews in Germany, we recommend that you use gestures sparingly.
In terms of body language when sitting down, it is worth pointing out that, unlike their German counterparts, American men consider it unmanly to place their legs side by side, choosing instead to cross one leg over the other. However, Arabs would find such behaviour insulting, as the soles of a person’s feet are considered unclean in their culture.
Smiling is one thing that you cannot go wrong with, as it is considered to be a sign of warmth and friendliness all around the world.
Seven tips for the effective use of body language in job interviews
1. Adopt a relaxed and upright posture
Walk in relaxed, but purposeful, ensuring that your steps are neither too big nor too small and moving your arms back and forth gently. Ideally, your posture should be relaxed and upright, with your shoulders straight and your chin slightly raised. Keep your head up, your stomach in and your chest out, and give a firm handshake.
2. Sit in a relaxed position
The most natural way to sit is upright, with your hands on the armrests. Make sure you are sitting properly on your chair, as sitting on the edge will make you come across as insecure.
3. Use gestures sparingly
Using hand gestures can be an effective way of emphasising what you are saying, but this should not be overdone.
4. Avoid physical signs of uncertainty
These include scratching the back of your head or your nose, as well as crossing your arms, which is a sign of defensiveness.
5. Be intentional with your facial expressions
Practise a friendly facial expression, as it will lend warmth to everything you say. Don't forget that facial expressions are not only important when speaking, but also when listening, as they show that you are interested.
6. Maintain eye contact
In Germany, making eye contact is a sign of being interested and open, while a wandering gaze signifies that you are insecure or not paying attention.
7. Speak at a steady pace
Speaking clearly with appropriate pauses is the best way to get your message across. If you are prone to mumble, then you should put in plenty of practice beforehand.
Community discussion on body language at job interviews
You will most likely have noticed the body language used by Germans you have talked to. Perhaps you found it agreeable at times and unusual at others. Join us in the 'Spotlight on Jobs & Careers' group to talk about cultural differences and share tips on how to use the right body language at job interviews in your own country.