Walk the walk: Non-verbal communication 101

Your CV is not the only thing that matters. You can be the best front-end developer, back-end developer, you can even be the best ~effing-awesome-developer~ (if that was a real thing), but if you show up with a bad attitude or if you fail to control your emotions, none of that will matter much in your next interview. That’s why today KWAN will go the extra mile with you. Keep on reading.

[Editor’s Note: this article was originally published in April 2018, and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness].

A job interview is like a date. You don’t know if things will work out, but if you’re there it’s because you hope they do, otherwise you’d be at home playing your favourite videogame, let’s be honest. Obviously, you want to do your best, but you have to be yourself, so you should flaunt who you really are. Keep in mind that this is the beginning of a brand-new relationship, and communication is key. You already know how to answer the questions, but, in this article, we’ll approach your answers. “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!” We’ve all heard this before. This is: Non-verbal communication 101, inspired by the book People Watching, the Desmond Morris guide to body language (2002).

First things first

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A handshake and an honest smile. Greeting the other person is the very first step. Start with a fine handshake, make sure that your hand is not limp like a fish out of the sea, nor too stiff like a nugget just out of the freezer. A proper handshake is all about the elbow movement, not the wrist. You will be the handshake Federer. Don’t forget the good manners either, greet everyone you meet – think Lionel Richie or Adele, a simple “Hello” isn’t that hard and works wonders. Everyone deserves to hear “good morning”, from the CEO to the cleaning lady. A genuine smile warms a room right up and opens many doors. Now comes another twenty-first-century etiquette rule, which is to keep your phone away, preferably face down, unless you want to use it to write down your notes.

Walk the walk

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You know how to talk the talk, now you have to walk the walk. Behave the way you want to be perceived. Adopt a caricature-like mindset. How is the posture of someone anxious? Bored? Insecure? Quite possibly something like Harry Potter’s disgusting Peter Pettigrew – pretty far from what we want. Now, on the other hand, what are the mannerisms of someone poised? And confident? Sociable? Exactly, that’s the legendary Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother. Assume his posture: relaxed shoulders, a straight back, your head raised, neat clothes and a smiling face.

Gestures and movements

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Gestures can be the perfect enhancer to set the pace of your stories and answers. Don’t be too expansive, use them as an aid to engage your audience. A sequencee of steps, a thought process or a flowing story deserve some gestures, for instance. But refrain yourself from using those Jazz Hands every time you talk. Sit up straight, but not too stiff. Be particularly cautious if you are prone to nervous tics, such as biting your nails, tapping your fingers, air kicking, foot tapping or clicking the pen over and over again. All these can distract an interviewer. The attention should be on you and especially on what you say. Gestures are your engagement tool.

Facial expressions and eye contact

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Eye contact fuels empathy and ensures the interviewer that you are present at the moment. You must always look into the other person’s eyes whenever you greet them or say goodbye, not to mention during key moments throughout the interview. But you have to dose it. Too much eye contact and you run the risk of looking like a psychopath who is staring at the next victim. Too little can be perceived as lack of interest, little transparency and straightforwardness, lack of self-esteem and self-consciousness. Keep yourself alert and look at different points to break any prolonged eye contact. As for your facial expression, try to keep it relaxed, without biting your lips or tongue, grinding your teeth, or touching your face or hair. After all, this conversation should be as natural as any other.

Tone of voice and diction

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Perhaps this one requires a little bit more practice, but here’s something that you can use throughout your whole life. Your voice is your main channel when it comes to conveying information during the interview, but there’s no need to be a chatterbox or interrupt the other person. As for the volume, don’t talk too loudly, it can be upsetting. For you to feel comfortable, a rule of thumb is to adjust your tone of voice to that of your interlocutor. If you speak too low, the first issue is the possibility of not being able to convey the proper message; the second problem is, yet again, to look too self-conscious, like when you don’t make enough eye contact. To avoid diction issues, speak slowly, give yourself more time to articulate the ideas and people will understand you much better. Obviously, if the topic is exciting, your tone of voice will naturally be more enthusiastic, don’t run away from that spontaneity. Also, try to avoid too many loan words. If you have the tendency to clear your throat when you’re nervous, there’s nothing like bringing a bottle of water with you instead of coughing convulsively. It’s more discreet and keeps you hydrated. Win-win.

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have

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Let’s face it, fashion isn’t your thing, or you’d be preparing for an interview at Vogue magazine. So, as for the dress code, try to find out what the company culture is and be yourself. Okay, maybe not-that-much-yourself, to the point where you’d wear your favorite Dragon Ball t-shirt or your Hawaiian lucky shirt, but there’s no need for a suit-and-tie outfit either. The smart-casual style can be a good starting point. Go for some simple pants, a shirt that isn’t completely creased or a polo and clean shoes. It’s bamboozling that we have to mention it, but hygiene can never be overlooked. I mean, if you don’t have the self-respect of taking shower, brushing your teeth, putting on deodorant and fixing your hair the day you have an interview… Dude, when is that going to happen? Summon your inner Steve Jobs and, if need be, come up with your own uniform.

Bonus tip:

If anxiety is really kicking in, right before the interview you can discreetly do some belly breathing to control stress.

If you want to have even more control over the situation, grab a mirror or your smartphone and record yourself as you follow these tips. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. It will be cringe worthy but you’ll learn a lot by identifying tiny details about your non-verbal communication that you didn’t know before – it can make all the difference. Believe me, practice does make perfect.

Above all, be yourself. Keep a positive attitude and be open-minded. At the end of the day, to make sure that the match with your next job is nothing short of perfect, they need to like you for who you are. And, since there is no one like you, the case is closed. Break a leg!

Now you can read our new job insomnia checklist (gluten, lactose & B$ free).