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Are you sabotaging your interviews without saying a word?

Posted on: May 23, 2018

Category: Interviewing

By Greg Whitesell, Marketing Director

Your resume was flawless.  Every “i” dotted, every “t” crossed.  You perfectly and succinctly presented your credentials and demonstrated that you have what it takes to perform your dream role at XYZ company.  You made it through the phone interview successfully.  Now comes the most important part – the face to face interview.  You know you need to study up on the company and the professionals you’ll be meeting with.  Your preparation will undoubtedly include rehearsing what you’ll say; however, are you taking time to consider the unspoken aspects of an interview?  As humans, our senses play a big role in how we form opinions and make decisions.  Excluding taste (unless you’re applying for a position as a chef, mixologist or similar role) an interviewer’s sensory system can drive certain perceptions based on stimuli presented by interviewees.  This means non-verbal faux pas have the potential to derail your chances of getting the job before you even open your mouth.  If you’ve landed yourself an interview – it’s just sensible to consider these often-overlooked pitfalls.


This list of potential slip-ups an interviewer can see is extensive.  Obviously, being dressed and groomed appropriately for the interview is important (more to come on grooming later under “smell”).  Eye contact is another biggie – mastering the appropriate amount of it is something you need to rehearse.  Make too much and the interview can become a creepy stare down.  Too little and you might come off as aloof.  If you’re prone to making big gestures when you speak or you have nervous habits like foot tapping or pen clicking, those can distract an interviewer.  Do you tend to lean back in your chair?  Be aware that kicking back during an interview can tell an interviewer that you’re either a) lazy b) cocky or c) uninterested.  While we’re talking about looking uninterested, what is your expression saying?  Humans, including hiring managers, are driven by emotions.  A positive facial expression with a smile thrown in throughout is the most likely option to elicit a favorable perception from an interviewer.


We mentioned toe tapping and pen clicking above – and it goes without saying that the sound of those habits is just as annoying as the sight.  We’ll add excessive use of “um”, since it isn’t technically a word and can make you seem either nervous or unprepared.  Also, if you’re offered a glass of water at the onset of your interview, accept it – wetting your whistle every now and then can help prevent excessive throat clearing that could otherwise impede your message.  Another consideration – stomach rumbling.  As the captain of your ship, you know when you need to add a little fuel to prevent potentially awkward hunger pangs. 


Do not hug your interviewer.  We can’t say this enough – do not hug your interviewer!  But don’t take our word for it.  Google the phrase “hug an interviewer” or something similar and peruse the droves of articles from reputable sources (Forbes, US News and World Report, CareerBuilder – and the list goes on) who strongly suggest you refrain from going all in on an embrace.  Do, on the other hand, greet your interviewers with a handshake – but practice that too.  A handshake that’s too soft or limp can suggest that you’re not confident.  One that’s too hard?  You might come across as aggressive or domineering.  Lasts too long?  Maybe you’re trying too hard to convince them on you.  


Neurobiologist Donald Wilson stated: “The olfactory system, anatomically, is right in the middle of the part of the brain that’s very important for memory.  There are strong neural connections between the two”.  With that said, what do you want an interviewer to remember about you?  That you had garlic bread for lunch?  You wore socks that could’ve walked themselves to the interview?  You swam in a vat of Old Spice or Chanel?  None of these scenarios are likely to help you land the role.  If you aren’t sure that you’re emanating a pleasing aroma – ask a friend or loved one.  In general, less is more when it comes to colognes, perfumes, lotions, etc. 

In conclusion, making sure you’re a fit for the qualifications the employer is seeking and properly communicating to them the value you’ll bring their team is the most important thing to consider when preparing for an interview.  Most hiring managers won’t let one or two non-verbal cues keep them from hiring the most qualified candidate; however, they may use their perceptions to see how a potential hire would fit in with the culture of the company.  When interviewing, focus on letting the best version of the “real you” shine through and show the interviewer how you, the skills you’ve gained and the experience you’ve acquired can benefit their organization.

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