Interviews and assessment centres

Body talk: the right moves for graduate job interviews

25 Jan 2023, 13:39

How you act in a graduate job interview is important: it's part of creating the ideal package. Practise some body language techniques today so that you stay cool in the interview hot seat.

Job candidate gesturing during an interview with an interviewer holding a resume.

Smoothly change your seating position throughout the interview. Keep your posture open and avoid crossing your arms.

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 your body under control if you think ahead. We’ve also included tips for how to make the most of your head during virtual interviews – when that’s the only part of you interviewers see.

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 body language expert Robert Phipps 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.

For a virtual interview, trying not to be too rigid could still ease you into the interview and out of a state of nervousness. However, do keep your webcam in mind; try not to move around so much that your full head can no longer be seen.

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.

Try not to force hand movements; keeping them smooth, measured and natural will aid communication without causing distraction.

Again, don’t shy away from hand movements during video interviews – particularly if you think they help you when speaking or explaining. Rather than worrying too much about whether the interviewer can see your hands, think of hand movements as a tool for you.

Get your head in the game

The movements of your head and face can be the difference between conveying enthusiasm for a job and the impression that you’d rather be somewhere else. Think about:

  • Your eyes. Aim for an open, confident gaze rather than a fixed stare, but do look. Keep this up for a virtual interview, too. While they might not be able to see where you’re looking, focussing on an interviewer’s eyes when they’re speaking should help you to keep up concentration and prevent your eyes from wandering around your room, which could convey boredom.
  • Your mouth. Try a natural smile when greeting and saying goodbye. Particularly at the beginning, the interviewer’s smile back should help you to start establishing a rapport and ease your nerves.
  • Your head movements. If you want to convey your agreement while an interviewer is still talking – or if you want to show that you’re still engaged when they speak for a long time – add in a couple of nods.

If your interview is via a virtual platform, your face is all you have to work with to make an impression – so do focus on your facial expressions and perhaps exaggerate them a little.

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…).

It's difficult to completely stop habits you have formed over a lifetime, and the interviewer isn’t going to rule you out because of an awkwardness or quirkiness in your actions. Try not to overthink if you realise your body language isn’t perfect. However, having a plan for how you can casually switch out of these movements when you recognise them happening means you’ll be able to convey a sense of confidence and bolster your communication ability.

Practising 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) should help you to use them naturally during interviews. Film yourself on your phone to see how you come across on a virtual platform.

Our partners at Shortlist.Me offer resources that will help you practise interviews and understand how you come across.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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