Body Language in Interviews


The following quiz will ask you a variety of questions about your non-verbal communication in interviews. Don't take it too seriously, but it should provide some useful pointers on what to do and what not to do.

picture of open/closed postures

1. In a job interview, a student being interviewed in posture A suddenly moved to posture B.
Give a possible explanation.

A. The interviewee feels defensive

B. The interviewee feels cold

C. The interviewee is becoming more relaxed

2. A piece of research showed that when people meet for the first time, there are three important factors. These are given below.
Which is the most important?


A. Content - what they say.

B. How they sound (tone of voice - accent, pitch, variation and tempo of speech).

C. Body Language.


3. Another piece of research found that certain non-verbal behaviours (e.g. not including dress and appearance) showed a statistically significant correlation with job interview success.
Name ONE of these behaviours from the list below:


A. Firm handshake

B. Regular eye contact

C. Sitting up straight

D. Smiling

E. Head nodding

F. Loud voice

picture of mirroring

4. Which of the following statements are likely to be true about the two people here?


A. They are of similar status. They agree with each others views.

B. They are of different status. They disagree with each other.







5) Based on the positions of the desk and chairs as you enter the room, which of these two interviews are likely to be the more formal?

picture of interview roompicture of interview room








6). Whilst on holiday in Greece, you end up one day at a little out of the way Greek village where nobody speaks English. You decide to study job opportunities at the local taverna with your 4 companions and try to order a round of 5 drinks signing with your hands. What happens next?


A. You are treated like a long-lost relative

B. You wake up in hospital with 2 black eyes, and a bruised ego.






10 points or more and you are a body language/NVC wizard!
Don't take this quiz too seriously of course: non-verbal communication is notoriously open to misinterpretation - even by experts. The key point to take from this exercise is that how you act is at least as important in an interview as what you say!



1. The posture with arms and legs crossed (POSTURE B) is called a CLOSED posture. It usually signifies a defensive or negative attitude, but beware of misinterpretation - the person may just be cold or just not have pockets! If the body is very erect and bent back it can also convey invulnerability. The other posture with arms and legs uncrossed (POSTURE A) is called an OPEN posture and usually suggests a more relaxed, open attitude.

interview body languageGive yourself 2 points for answer A.


2. Research by Albert Mehrabian suggested that body language was the most important, followed by how you sound, with what is actually said being the least important! Mehrabian now says that this only applies when a person is talking about their likes and dislikes "unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable". Even so, it's still a salutary lesson that we shouldn't just focus on a person's words.

Get 2 points for answer C

Researchers at the University of Glasgow found that people take under a second to form an impression of someone's personality based on just their voice. Voices transmit  information about our gender, age, strength and personality. Researchers extracted the single word "hello" from passages recorded by a number of individuals and asked 320 people to rate this for personality traits including trustworthiness, dominance and attractiveness. All ten traits scored on average 0.92 meaning that people agreed closely to the extent each voice represented each trait. The pitch of the voice influenced how trustworthy the person seemed: a man who raises his pitch becomes more trustworthy, whereas a girl who glides from a high to a low pitch is seen as more trustworthy than one whose voice goes up at the end of the word. Apparently Margaret Thatcher and the Queen were both trained to make their voices seem more dominant.

Researchers at Goldsmith's College found that female students who gave sidelong glances, gazed at the floor, fiddled with their hands, touched their hair, nodded their heads vigorously and kept answers to questions short were more likely to be offered jobs.

Men who faced the interviewer head-on, boasted about their success, didn't nod their heads too much and gave long answers to questions did better.

This was based on 60 students applying for jobs with leading companies. The study hoped to help interviewers to avoid unconscious discrimination due to sexual stereotypes.


3. Although all of these (except perhaps a loud voice) probably do contribute towards a good impression at interview, the three that had a statistically significant correlation were found to be eye contact, smiling, and surprisingly nodding your head! To complicate matters further, some recent research found that head nodding was seen as positive in women, but not in men, whereas too much eye contact was seen as negative in women candidates! (see panel to the right).

Karl Grammer of the University of Vienna found that women show interest in a man by regular eye contact, toying with their hair, tidying their clothes, and regular head nodding. He also found they make the same signals in the first minute of meeting a man whether they like him or not. Such flirting only shows real interest if it continues longer than four minutes. Grammer suggests women use the signals to keep the man's interest until they have decided he is worthwhile getting to know better.

We find people who look directly at us more likeable and more attractive. This is especially true if they are smiling. However staring at the interviewer all the time could be perceived as hostile!

Having a deep voice may also pay benefits at interview. Researchers at Duke University found that voters are more likely to pick candidates with a deeper voice whether the speaker was male or female. They made recordings of both male and female speakers and then altered the pitch of their subjects' voices and found that listeners "voted" more frequently for the "candidate" with the lower voice. Women with lower voices were perceived to be stronger, more trustworthy and competent. A lower tone gave male candidates a distinct advantage on the corporate ladder with a 22.1 MHz pitch decrease equalling an annual compensation increase of $187,000! 

Some thirty inches from my nose
The frontier of my Person goes,
And all the untilled air between
Is private pagus or demesne.
Stranger, unless with bedroom eyes
I beckon you to fraternize,
Beware of rudely crossing it:
I have no gun, but I can spit.

W.H. Auden

Different cultures have different interpersonal distances. In European culture 30 inches is about the acceptable limit - closer than this and you may feel that your body space has been invaded making you uncomfortable. In other cultures such as that of Arabia the acceptable distance is much closer whereas in the USA it is slightly more than in Europe. This can least to perceptions of impoliteness and rudeness in interactions between different cultural groups.

In one US embassy party in Arabia it was noticed that the Americans were nearly all standing with their backs against a wall when talking to Arabic guests - every time the Arabic guests had tried to get closer to maintain the normal body space for their culture, the Americans had backed away - this had continued until they were against the walls!

A US study found that students with a higher body mass index were less likely to be offered a place at graduate school. The study found evidence of a link in people's minds between BMI and lack of academic ability. This association is of course completely false but is is another example of the well known finding that people who are deemed to be physically attractive are perceived to have positive qualities.

Get 2 points for any of B, D or E


4. When people copy each others posture, it is called postural echo or mirroring. e.g. in a pub, friends will often pick up their drinks at the same time. It occurs subconsciously when people have similar views, the same status, or like each other. Strangers often studiously avoid mirroring each others postures. Paraphrasing what the other person is saying to you is a verbal version of mirroring, and can show that you are listening carefully to the other person.

In research on this an actor played an interviewee and mimicked the posture of the interviewer. Interviewers showed no awareness of this mimicry but rated the interviewer more favourably considering that he thought more like they did and identified with them. However, beware of consciously mirroring interviewers to try to make them like you - most personnel managers will probably know far more about this than you do!

Get 2 points for A

Research in the journal “Personality and Individual Differences” by McCormick, Geniole, Keyes and Carre found that men with wider faces are more likely to cheat. Men were no more likely than women to cheat, but men with larger facial width-to-height ratios were both more likely to cheat, and cheated to a greater extent. These wide-faced men also scored high on the psychopathic personality factor of “fearless dominance”

A study published earlier this year that found a correlation between facial width-to-height ratios and testosterone concentrations. “Testosterone is associated with dominance, personalized power, leadership, and with antisocial behaviour and risk-taking,” Testosterone levels of boys at puberty may influence “both fearless dominance and face structure,” giving them a certain appearance and also a tendency to behave assertively. Many US presidents have been diagnosed with “fearless dominance”: properly channelled aggression and dominance can confer benefits and positive outcomes.

Another paper suggested that men with wider faces are more likely to explicitly deceive their counterparts in a negotiation, and are more willing to cheat.

Power pose

According to research at Harvard Business School striking a "power pose" (an expansive posture with open limbs rather than one with crossed arms and legs) raises testosterone levels by an average of 20% and lowers cortisol (the stress hormone) by a similar amount. The posture above is one power position, as is standing with hands on hips with legs apart. Smiling and sitting up straight can lead to positive feelings whereas sitting with hunched, bent shoulders and frowning can make you feel unhappy! Positive posture, like positive visualisation can inculcate positive thoughts leading to positive behaviours.

Adopting power poses beforehand can make you feel more confident at interview. Expansive body postures such as standing upright with hands on your hips, leaning over a desk with hands firmly on the surface, or steepling your hands can increase testosterone, decrease stress, and make you feel more in control, more confident and more assertive. Practicing power poses right before an interview can also increase performance. Research at Harvard Business School found that holding power poses for two minutes before interview led candidates to be evaluated more favourably and increased their chances of a job offer by 20%. So if you’re worried about a job interview or presentation, strike a power pose a few minutes beforehand (not of course at the interview!) but in the washroom, or before leaving home.


5. Position B is called the "throne" position. It reinforces the interviewer's sense of control he/she can see everything that goes on in the room. Old fashioned managers often use this type of arrangement. Also the interviewee's chair is a long way from the desk increasing the formality. Position A with the desk touching the wall allows for a more informal and less dominating encounter. Sitting side on to the door allows for ease of approach. Sometimes the desk may be absent completely. Doctors and lecturers often use this arrangement. However be careful not to read too much into desk positions, the interviewer may have just borrowed the office for the interview and may not be able to influence the arrangement!

Out of interest researchers at the University of Minnesota found that a tidy desk may suggest generosity, and conventionality whereas a messy desk may relate to creative thinking and stimulating new ideas. "Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights. Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe."

Get 2 points for answer B

6. Putting your hand up with five spread fingers is an insult gesture in Greece! Be aware that people from other cultures have different distances they stand apart, loudness of voice, gaze behaviours etc. which can easily be misinterpreted by people of a different culture.

Get 2 points for answer B


Key Points for an interview


Also see Excel at Graduate Interviews

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