Friday, December 11, 2009

The Other Skills That Will Help You Get the Job: Part 2 of 4 - Body Language

A person can have all of the experience and technical skills the company is looking for but may not get hired if he does not demonstrate strong soft skills. Soft skills are the skills, abilities, and traits that pertain to personality, attitude, and behavior rather than formal or technical knowledge. It is the combination of abilities and soft skills that will set you apart from the crowd.

Soft skills include the following:
Active Listening
Body Language
Accepting Change
Good Attitude

Judi Adams, the founder and senior job search coach at RightChanges, the Affordable and Successful Job Search Coach, will address each of these in the four part series The Other Skills That Will Help You Get the Job.

In part one of the series we covered active listening and how important it is to all of us especially when we are in a job search.

In part two, we are covering body language. To really understand the importance of body language, think back to a time when you asked someone you are close to what’s wrong and she said “nothing” but her body was saying you are in deep trouble. It may be the set jaw (like she is gritting her teeth). It may be the lack of eye contact. It may be the left hip thrown out to the side and the crossed arms. Many of us realize in this situation that the words and the body language do not match and we trust the body language more than the words spoken.

Body language is the most spontaneous, natural, and reliable form of communications. It makes up the majority of our communications (some say 75% or more). Many of our expressions come from the truth of body language. Here are a few common phrases.

I don’t trust him, he had beady eyes: pupils constrict when the person is being deceitful.

He was such an engaging speaker; he had them on the edge of their seats: When people are engaged with what someone is saying, they move forward, to the edge of their chairs.

She is stand offish: We expect people to stand within a certain space from us when they are engaged in a conversation (note: the definition of appropriate personal space differs by country). When a person stands outside of that space, further away than expected, it makes us uncomfortable.

He’s pushy: Conversely when a person stands too close to us, we feel they are pushy.

Get a grip on yourself: We find it calming to touch our upper arms during times of stress

Have you ever wondered why e-mail or text communications quickly escalate out of hand (out of hand - another phrased based on body language)? It is because the person is missing out on the majority of our message which is conveyed by inflection, tone, and body language.

Now that you see the importance and reliability of body language, imagine how important body language is to the job search.

Your Body Language: The message you are sending

The first step of the job search is Attitude for a reason. If you don’t have a positive attitude, it will show in your word choice, your energy, and your body language. Attitude is one of the three steps that must be addressed before you begin the job search or you will be sabotaging your own job effort.

When networking (which is where 90%+ of people will find their next job) and interviewing, your body language needs to convey confidence, a good attitude, and openness. It is natural to be somewhat nervous before networking and interviewing; your body language is important so you need to be aware of the message you are sending to others.

Realize you are valuable: review your accomplishment list before going out to a networking event to remind yourself that you are very accomplished. Your posture standing and seated should reflect your confidence. If you slouch, your body is basically saying “don’t hire me, I’m not worthy”.

Be prepared: review networking tips so that you are more prepared for how to make the most of the event.

Participate in mock interviews with a job networking volunteer or coach to get feedback on not only your responses and questions but also on your handshake and body language.

Breathe deeply before entering the room and smile.

Have a good handshake: The handshake should be the same for men and women. It should be web of hand to web of hand. The hands should be firm, not crunching or limp, and both people should be involved in the shaking (don’t leave it to the other person to shake your hand).

There is one handshake that I have titled (with all due respect) the “Queen Elizabeth handshake”, when the woman’s hand closes over the fingers of the other person (male or female). This form of handshake would be appropriate if we kissed the person’s hand like some people do with royalty. I had a female salesperson shake my hand this way once and I have to say it shocked me because good handshakes are a basic tool for salespeople. Years ago, I had the privilege to shake hands with Princess Sarah Ferguson (Fergie), Duchess of York on her visit to town and even though she is royalty, she shook hands like normal. We don’t kiss hands in business so the “Queen Elizabeth handshake” should never be used.

Leave your arms and legs uncrossed to reflect openness. Women, it is okay to cross your ankles. If you are cold, you can cross your arms to retain body heat but rub your arms (like you are generating heat) or mention that you are a bit cool so the other person doesn’t misinterpret your intention.

Lean forward as the other person is speaking to show interest (remember the phrase above “he had them on the edge of their seats”).

Mirror the speaker’s body language. I enjoy watching people while I am waiting for a flight or meeting. I noticed that men are better at mirroring each other’s body language than women. Look around the next time you are out. Men at a table will have similar body language; note especially their posture and arms. You do not want to take this to the level of mimicking the other person though.

Have direct eye contact with the other person to compliment the speaker and build trust in you. Have you ever been to a presentation and made eye contact with the speaker? You will notice that the speaker will continually return to face you while speaking.

In different parts of the US and in different countries, the amount of eye contact is different. I am from the south but lived in Chicago for many years. When I first moved to Chicago, I kept hearing “you aren’t from here, are you?” mostly in response to my southern accent. At times when I hadn’t spoken though it was because I made eye contact and smiled with people who passed me on the street or that I saw on the bus.

Keep your hands visible to indicate trustworthiness, i.e. that you aren’t hiding anything. This means do not hold your hands behind your back. Men, do not put your hands in your pockets.

Do not overly gesture while talking as it will detract from what you are saying.

In a group interview, make eye contact with the last person that spoke. Make sure though that during the meeting you make eye contact with everyone.

These are things that you should be aware about with your own body language; you need to be aware of other people’s body language as well.

Their Body Language: The message you should be receiving

If the person you are speaking to demonstrates any of the following body movements, it means they are responsive to you: leaning forward, open arms and legs, open hands (palms up).

When people tilt their head, nod, has a high blink rate, stroke their chin, smile, and look up and to the right, they are reflective (thinking).

If, instead, the people you are speaking to stare into space, cross their arms, slump in posture, doodle, tap their feet, aim their feet toward the door, look around, sit to the back of their chairs, have their heads down, or have clenched hands, then they are bored or have rejected you. Be aware if the person you are speaking to suddenly changes to one of these postures, you may have said something that is offensive or misunderstood and you may need to clarify the point.

People are not being truthful if they touch their face, put their hand over their mouth, pull an ear, turn their eyes down, or shift in the seat.

A few funny stories from the job search front

I like finding humor where I can.

I was asked what it means if the interviewer falls asleep in the midst of the interview.

My team and I were interviewing a person to fill an opening we had. After the interview and escorting her out, we reconvened to discuss everyone’s feedback. When I sat in the seat she had been sitting in I about fell out of it. The seat was broken and only with a great deal of effort could the person sitting in it stay upright. Here she was facing a team interview while at the same time developing her core muscles so she did not fall onto the floor. If she is reading this I want to say “no, that was not a test; we didn’t know the seat was broken until you left but to this day we think you are amazing”.

Do you have funny and real job search stories that relate to body language? Send them to for possible inclusion in the book that we have coming out.

Understanding body language, monitoring your own body language, and interpreting the body language of others will come very naturally to you with practice, like driving while watching the rear and side view mirrors; you will not even realize you are doing it but are taking in all of the information that is being communicated. For a job seeker it can mean the difference between landing that next job and being on the job market a bit longer.


  1. Hmmm. . . I wonder what it means when someone absent-mindedly picks their nose during an interview. . . ;) (true story.)

  2. In one of my trainings today, I was asked this question by a newly graduated dentist:

    I am a new graduate; all of my new clients know this.
    When I am working, I can feel they are scared, and don’t trust my work, due to my lack of experience. Add to that, as a dentist, I am working on their teeth=mouth= ventilation organ, and close to their neck= most delicate part of the body, and over their heads= dominancy.

    How can I, through my body language, make them feel secured while I am fixing their teeth?

  3. What does it mean if someone looks up and to the left?

  4. The following is a generalization.
    If a person is describing an event that he or she has witnessed or participated in, for instance, the person's eyes should move primarily to his or her left (if the person is right handed), indicating memory access. If the person looks up and to the right a lot, however, it is likely that the person is constructing or reconstructing some aspect of the experience he or she is describing. This may indicate that the person is either uncertain or being untruthful about what he or she is saying.

  5. Dania,
    My response to the recent dental graduate is: there is a lot more that goes into building a client's confidence in you than just body language.

    A good first impression would include:
    * not having your face covered initially so they can see a smile (not hiding anything)
    * calling them by their name and shaking their hand
    * have a comforting, reassuring tone in your voice and calm manner (not moving fast as if nervous or a high pitched voice).

    From there on it is your skills that will make the permanent impression.