Whether you like it or not, everyone decodes the signals they receive from the body language of others, both consciously and unconsciously. In graduate job interviews it's natural to feel nerves, but you can master them and get you body under control if you think ahead.
Sitting pretty: how to sit
The handshake often gets all the attention, but other aspects of body language can cause equal worry. For example, how should you sit?
The suggestion of TV body language expert Robert Phipps (of Trisha Goddard Show fame), is to 'change position throughout the interview; move around in the chair; mirror or match the other person from time to time'. This type of action eases you out of stage fright and stops you getting stuck. However, try to keep your movements smooth and avoid fidgeting.
Keep your posture open at all times. Crossed arms suggest a closed and defensive position, so practice sitting so that your hands are comfortably rested one on top of the other, or one on the arm of the chair and the other one in your lap. Steer clear of interlocking your fingers as you might never peel them apart again if nerves kick in.
Hand gestures can aid communication
Hand gestures play an important role in communication, helping you emphasise or reinforce key points and words. Using right hand movements while you talk signifies that you are giving out information, while left hand gestures indicate your readiness to receive information. Open palms show openness and honesty.
Again, try to keep your actions smooth, measured and natural. Don't overdo or force hand gestures or you risk distracting your interviewer or worse, smacking them in the face by accident.
Read the interviewer's body language
Body language is, of course, a two-way process. In the same way that interviewer reads (consciously or unconsciously) how you move and act, you can read their body language too.
Look for positive or negative movements. Nodding, leaning forward, and tilting the head to one side are all positive indicators: your interviewer is interested and attentive. Arms crossed, tapping on the table, fiddling with nails or staring into the middle-distance could mean that things aren't going so well.
Practise your moves and get into your comfort zone
Start thinking about how you want to come across in advance of your graduate interview and practise some good moves before the day. Be aware of how you sit and of any little ticks that come to the surface when you're under pressure (hair twiddling, hand wringing, eyebrow rubbing, nose twitching…).
It's difficult to completely stop habits you have formed over a lifetime, but having a plan for how you can casually switch out of these movements when you recognise them happening means they won't be a showstopper in interviews.
Likewise, practise adopting your open posture and using smooth hand gestures in your daily life, for example, when you're talking in seminars, responding in discussion groups and sitting in lectures.
Our partners at Shortlist.Me offer resources that will help you practise interviews and understand how you come across.