Common nonverbal mistakes candidates make when interviewing

After weeks of sending out countless cover letters and resumes for various job openings, you finally landed an in-person interview. While having all the right credentials will get your foot in the door, it’s also crucial to make a good first impression and avoid making nonverbal mistakes during a job interview. In a survey of more than 2,000 hiring managers by Pro Resume Center LLC, 33 percent of hiring managers claimed to know whether or not they would hire someone within 90 seconds. I’ve personally made quite a few nonverbal mistakes during job interviews that may have cost me the job despite having the credentials required for the position. Don’t do what I did; come prepared to the interview by avoiding these behaviors:

Common Nonverbal mistakes

In that same survey by Forbes, the following statistics were listed:

  • 67 percent of candidates fail to make eye contact
  • 47 percent have little knowledge of the company
  • 38 percent don’t smile
  • 33 percent have bad posture
  • 33 percent fidget too much
  • 26 percent have a weak handshake
  • 21 percent play with their hair or touch their face
  • 21 percent cross their arms over their chest
  • 9 percent use too many hand gestures

When I first started interviewing, I performed quite a few of these behaviors. For the first two positions I seriously applied for in public relations, I walked into the office with less than 10 minutes’ worth of research. One of the interviewers commented on it, noting that I should seriously know more about the company if I’m applying for the position. While embarrassing, it really opened my eyes and encouraged me to do more serious digging into the company’s history.

I would often shift my eye contact away from the interviewer when answering questions. Sometimes (and I still do this often), when people ask me questions, I tend to stroke my chin when I’m thinking about something, which is probably a distracting behavior to the interviewer or person talking. I would also use too many hand gestures when speaking; while small movements are okay during an interview, I would make large, sweeping and exaggerated motions which, again, is distracting to the interviewer or person speaking.

Performing one or two of these behaviors isn’t the “end all be all” that will doom you from getting hired, but in combination it makes for a very unconfident, distracting and even incompetent candidate from the standpoint of the interviewer.

Corrective Measures

Fortunately, these behaviors are relatively easy to correct. When approaching the interviewer I smile, make eye contact and give a firm handshake with my right hand (try not to mess up the handshake so that only one person actually has any gripping power based on incorrect hand placement). When sitting down at the interview table I sit upright with my hands politely clasped in front of me; this dissuades me from crossing my arms over my chest or making too many hand gestures in this position, while maintaining a more serious and attentive body posture.

When the interviewer tries to lighten the mood or if it’s my turn to answer questions I’ll try to smile when appropriate and actually look at the interviewer while speaking. It takes practice to not get distracted when looking at people in the eyes when they’re speaking, or you’re speaking because you’re paying more attention to their nonverbal gestures, but you’ll eventually get acclimated.

One thing that’s very important is to give the impression that you’re actually listening, which is undone when you fidget in your seat. Again, for the first few interviews I had my arms crossed over my chest, my legs crossed with one bobbing up in down under the table as the interviewer spoke. What made things worse was that I would nod my head to show that I was listening, but I did it so often that I looked like a bobblehead. It’s important to signal that you’re paying attention, but this is done by making eye contact with the interviewer and slowly nodding every so often at appropriate points in the conversation.

What first impressions are determined by

In the Forbes survey 55 percent of hiring managers determined that the way you dress, act and walk through the door determine their first impression of the candidate. To a lesser extent, 38 percent said that the quality of a candidate’s voice, grammar and confidence determined their first impression, while 7 percent said that it was words the candidate chose to say that had the biggest impact.

The way a candidate dresses makes the biggest impression, as 70 percent of employers claimed that they didn’t want applicants to be overly fashionable or trendy, while 65 percent said that clothes can be the deciding factor between two similar candidates.

You don’t have to go overboard with buying expensive clothing to make that impression, but over-dressing and under-dressing will leave negative impressions as soon as you walk through the door. Most of your time should be spent preparing answers for the interview, but looking better than other candidates isn’t going to play a significant factor. Dress for success, but don’t over or under-dress.

How to dress for success

Dressing for success really depends on the position you’re applying for: if you’re interviewing for a higher-level position, a 2-button charcoal or navy suit should be worn with brown or black dress shoes, a white point-collar shirt and a tie that matches in color with no more than three colors on it. Socks should also match the color of pants that you’re wearing.

For lower-level positions, a white or light-blue button up shirt with black or charcoal dress pants is a good place to start. Black oxford, plain-toe dress shoes are also the standard to wear with this type of attire, as they’re considered a more professional color and style of dress shoe. While it isn’t required, a navy blue or gray blazer can also compliment the outfit quite nicely with a matching tie. I can’t really speak on what’s appropriate or standard for women to wear, but the biggest takeaway is that the outfit should be professional, as well as not too loud or distracting.

Conclusion

Nonverbal mistakes won’t make or break the interview when only one or two of them are performed, but in combination it can really harm your chances at getting the job. Practice and rehearse before the interview so avoiding these behaviors becomes second-nature and so you aren’t stumbling over answers because you’re so focused on how you’re acting in the interview chair.

It’s also important to dress well and be confident to make a good first impression, but more emphasis should be placed on doing background research and preparing your answers for potential questions that will be asked during the interview.

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What other mistakes do you think candidates make when interviewing? Or what mistakes have you personally made when interviewing for a position within a company? What’s appropriate and inappropriate to wear to an interview? Let me know in the comments below!

Author: brandonlazovic

Brandon Lazovic is a public relations practitioner and freelance journalist with a bachelor's degree from Eastern Michigan University. Lazovic is currently a digital marketing intern at SPARK in Ann Arbor, Mich. In the past Lazovic wrote for the media relations department at EMU and was the former news editor at the Eastern Echo.

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