Job Seekers

The rules as regards to applying for jobs have been subject to enormous changes lately, and if you haven't been job hunting for a while, it can come as a bit of a shock: In the past, people preferred a hand-written application letter, but it is becoming more and more common these days to find and apply for a vacancy via the internet.  More and more often it is enough to email your C.V., or simply place your C.V. on the web, and because of this, the application procedure often goes more quickly, and you can find yourself invited for a job interview before you know it.

Of course you can find lots of information about how to apply for jobs on the net, and there is lots of guidance about how to write your application letter, the clothes that you should wear and even how to conduct yourself at the interview. However, although the importance of body language is often mentioned, it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. After all, before a word has even been spoken, your body language will have already given people their first impression of you. And we all know, first impressions count.


What type of person are you?

By using words you can explain what type of education you have received and what experience you have. You can also show through words that you know what you’re talking about and you can answer questions to clarify matters. At the same time however, your body language will also give out a lot more information than you realise.

Based on your body language people will decide whether you come across as insecure or self-assured. It can also indicate if you are a busy or a quiet type, and it even gives an impression of whether you are telling the truth or not. Body language can show if you are not prone to stress. It can even show how enthusiastic you are, and if you are a nice person; someone who will take their work seriously, but also has a sense of humour and can enjoy a joke from time to time.

Members of the interview committee will ask you questions, but your answers won’t only be oral. The people interviewing you will not only pay attention to what you say, but also to how you say it. Body language can determine if everything 'clicks into place', and sometimes all it takes is a few seconds.

Everybody uses body language, but it usually takes place at a subconscious level. Through becoming more aware of your body language, and through recognising the body language of others, you can definitely increase your chances of getting that job.

Pay attention to time!

It might be a cliché to talk about arriving on time for a job interview, but I think it is still important enough to bring it to your attention. Your attitude or attention to time will also send out non-verbal messages.

An interview for a job is seen as a very important appointment, and showing up late for your appointment is absolutely unacceptable. Missing the bus or getting stuck in a traffic jam are pretty lame excuses. After all, for an important appointment like this you should have taken that into account. It’s much better to arrive way too early than even a little late. If you are too early for your appointment you don’t have to go in immediately: walk around the neighbourhood a little, because waiting for a long time in a hallway or a 'sweatbox' will not do your nerves any good. If it is very cold outside, it might be wise to go back in about ten minutes before your appointment because it can be very unpleasant to have to shake an ice-cold hand.

The first meeting

After you have announced yourself at the reception or to an employee of the company, you will often be asked to take a seat. After a while someone will come to take you to the interview area. Do not jump up immediately and offer this person a handshake. It’s better to let the other person take the initiative. Shake hands firmly, but not with an iron grip, and look straight at the other person. After this you will be introduced to the (other) members of the application panel. During this introduction it is better to walk around the table to shake hands with the panel members, instead of leaning over the table. With each greeting look directly at the other person, and say your name. Unless it is an internal application, don’t assume that the other people know your name.

Choosing the right seat

After the initial introduction you will usually be asked to take a seat. If you are left to choose a place yourself, choose a place from where you can clearly see all the interview participants, and from where they can also see you. If someone is sitting half behind you, and you can’t really see them, they may not get such a good impression of you.

Tune your body posture

During your job interview try to adopt a posture that shows interest but still comes across as relaxed. You can do this by sitting up straight in your chair at the beginning of the interview, with your back against the back of the chair. If you slouch or hang sideways in your chair, it might give the impression that you are not that interested in the job. However, sitting on the edge of your chair can come across as being a little tense and might give the impression that you feel uncomfortable.

You can change your body posture a little during the interview. For example, when someone says something it is good to turn a little with your shoulders towards this person and to lean forward a little. This shows an interest in what the other person is saying. You can emphasise this by tilting your head slightly. It is also important to pay attention to the posture of your interview partners. In some cases you can achieve mutual tuning by adopting the same posture as the other person.

What to do with your hands?

Just as when you are giving a presentation, many people often regard their hands as obstacles during a job interview, rather than a useful means of communication. That is why people often ask what to do with their hands. In a difficult situation we are inclined to fold our arms across our chest. This helps to give us a more secure feeling, but during a job interview it is better not to do this, because folding your arms can be interpreted as a defensive move. It is better to place your hands loosely on your lap or on the armrests of your chair. From these positions it’s also easy to support your words with hand gestures.

Movement: A dynamic interview

Nodding your head while speaking is another good way to support your words or add meaning to them. Hand movements can also help to liven up the interview. The fact that you dare to make movements with your hands during an interview might indicate that you feel at ease. In most cases it is better not to make too many hand movements at the start of the interview but add them slowly throughout the interview, and don’t forget to pay attention to your interview partners as well: If they use their hands a lot to make things clear, you can mirror this behaviour.

If they don’t make many movements, it is better if you don’t either. Just the same as with body posture, it is important to tune your movements to those of the other person. Also pay attention to inadvertent movements that you may make sometimes due to nervousness. For example, shuffling your feet or kicking against the leg of a table can be very irritating for other people. Drumming with your fingers or clicking with a pen also won’t be a great contribution to the interview. So pay attention!

When should you look at someone?

During the job interview it is important to make eye contact with all the interview partners to an equal extent. By looking directly at the other person we are giving them a sign of trust. By looking directly at people we are also in control of the conversation.

Looking directly at somebody or looking away actually serves as the dots and commas in our spoken sentences. When one of the committee members explains something or poses a question, keep looking at this person for as long as he or she is speaking. This shows that you’re listening. While they are speaking they may also look at the other people, but every time they want to emphasise something they will look at you again. You can then nod to indicate understanding, and to encourage them to continue talking. At the end of the question, they will probably keep looking at you with a slight upward tilt of the head to invite you to answer.

When you answer a question, you should look first at the person who posed the question, but while you answer you should take turns looking at the other interview partners as well. You should direct yourself again to the person who posed the question when you want to emphasise something and at the end of your answer.

Pay attention to the body language of the interviewers

Apart from paying attention to your own body language, it is also important to see how your interview partners behave. The postures and movements of other people can give you an impression of how you are coming across to them. This can serve as a warning at an early stage that you might be doing something wrong that you are not aware of. For example, when the committee members are of the opinion that you hold the floor for too long or you annoy them with your interruptions, they will show their irritation first through their body language. If the panel members shake their heads, sigh or fold their arms and lean back, you can take this as a sign of displeasure. Usually it is not too late to change this as their body language also takes place subconsciously. However, don’t wait too long because their irritation will soon transfer to their consciousness.

Do not worry too much about looking tense

Knowledge of body language can help you improve the mutual tuning during an interview. You can use this knowledge to hide your nervousness a little, but actually this is something you shouldn’t worry about too much. Many applicants are nervous during an interview and of course they would much prefer not to let this nervousness show. However, it’s not such a bad thing to be nervous. The panel members will understand this. Your nervousness may even show that this job is important to you. If you  sit a little nonchalantly, it might indicate that you are not that interested.

In addition any job interview is more than just a means for the employer to determine which of the candidates is most suitable for the job. More importantly it is  a moment of mutual acquaintance. It’s a first meeting with people that you might soon work together with. Therefore the boss should actually be just as nervous as you are.  In some ways you are interviewing them.

About the author:
Frank van Marwijk is a sociotherapist and the director of Bodycom (Bodily Communication), a body language consultancy in the Netherlands. He is considered to be the best known Body Language specialist of the Netherlands.
Frank is the creator of a Dutch website about body language: A partly translated version of which can be found at: