Is your interviewing body language a perfect "10"?

As summer meanders to an end, and summer jobs all but disappear, many recent college grads are making the transition from languid summer days to launching a career in the “real” world. And that means getting ready for job interviews.

Just as summer sports and activities require a strong, fit body, your body language in an interview is equally, if not more, important. In fact, human resources professionals agree that body language can telegraph the good and the bad about a candidate. In many instances, body language communicates more than the actual words the candidate shares with an interviewer.

Take time now to check out your own body language and be sure it communicates a fit, strong, confident candidacy for the job you want to land. Here are ten quick steps to make sure your body language is a perfect “10”:

1. Ensure a strong first impression – through your handshake - Your handshake is key to making a good first impression. Is your handshake strong, creating a lock between the “V’s” of your thumb and forefinger and the interviewer’s thumb and forefinger? Do you connect for at least three to five seconds? Is your eye contact straightforward and continuing throughout your introduction? Nobody wants to shake a weak, light, sweaty palm.

2. Use your eyes to communicate - We’ve all been in a situation where we couldn’t say anything and had to use our eyes to communicate (your rolling eyes said “Can you believe she actually wore that dress?”). Don’t forget this valuable communications tool in an interview. Eye contact is important, but it can work against you if you stare at the interviewer like a zombie. Likewise, shifting, darting or downward focused eyes convey dishonesty. Use your eyes to communicate enthusiasm, passion, importance, humor and interest in the employer. Think about making your eyes sparkle, it will go a long way in relaxing you and making your interview enjoyable.

3. Keep your hair under control - Interviews should not be a “hair-raising” experience. If you need a haircut or a new hairstyle, be sure you get it a few days prior to the interview. There’s nothing worse than watching a candidate fuss with his or her hair, or flip hair away from her face during a meeting. Hair fiddling is a sure sign of insecurity. Keep your hair away from your face, and be careful not to use so much product that it distracts from the content of your conversation.

4. Smile - It’s your biggest secret weapon. Candidates are often so worried about answering questions correctly they entirely forget to smile. Smiling throughout an interview accomplishes several things: it shows the interviewer you are relaxed, it helps you relax, and it helps you project and show enthusiasm for the information you are sharing and the job you want. Most importantly, a good smile shows the employer you are warm, open and friendly, which are desirable assets for all employees.

5. Use positive facial expressions - Facial expressions can be a dead giveaway for frightened interviewers. We’ve all seen someone react to a question or situation like a deer in the headlights. We’ve also seen someone answer positively while their face says the opposite: “Yes, I love prune whip on pickled herring…”. Use facial expressions to convey interest and to further emphasize important comments or opinions.

6. Project confidence through your posture - Here’s where fitness really comes into play. Your mother was right: it is important to sit up in your chair. Sitting up, however, isn’t enough. Be sure your shoulders are square, your neck is straight and holding your head high and your chest is open. Put your hands on your lap or your thighs, and be conscious not to cross your arms over your chest. Think of yoga or pilates to stretch and speak from your core. Great posture projects energy, confidence, and fitness, while poor posture communicates timidity, laziness, and introversion. And whatever you do, try to avoid sitting on a couch during an interview; it’s a real posture challenger. If you do wind up on a couch or upholstered chair, be sure to sit upright and on the edge – it shows interest.

7. Use hand gestures to emphasize points, but sparingly - Hand gestures can do one of two things: get the interviewer more involved in the story you are sharing, or make you look like a goon. Use hand gestures to emphasize a point: it was “enormous,” it was so “frustrating,” it was “perfect.” But stay away from gesticulating throughout the conversation. The interviewer will have a hard time following your train of thought.

8. Eliminate nervous fiddling - Are you a pen clicker? There’s nothing like a good distraction to send an interviewer completely off course, and frankly, up the wall. If you know you love to click your pen, try using a felt tip with the cap off. If you love to crack your knuckles, put your hands under your thighs or on the arms of the chair. If you know you slap your thigh for emphasis, cross your hands in your lap. If you play with your rings and jewelry, don’t wear any. The message here? Keep the interviewer’s attention on you, not your fidgeting.

9. Lose the legs - In most interview situations, it is appropriate for women to wear pants, which alleviates the issue of short skirts, crossed legs, etc., all of which can be a major distraction to an interviewer. If you do choose to wear a skirt, it’s always best to sit on the edge of the chair, with both feet planted firmly on the floor, knees together. If you are more comfortable crossing your ankles, that’s fine too. Crossing legs while wearing a short skirt is not advisable, no matter how great your legs are. The barometer: if you cross your legs and the interviewer can see your knees, don’t do it. Men should also try to avoid crossing their legs in an interview, as nine times out of ten, it makes them sit too far back in their chair and conveys indifference. Your legs are a crucial part of your posture and should be used to help your energy level, not the employer’s.

10. Be likeable - A likeable, confident candidate beats an insecure, unsure candidate every time – even if the qualifications of the insecure candidate are slightly better. Remember, you will be spending the majority of your time with the people at the office, so the person who is making the hiring decision has to like you. Your body language is communicating throughout your interview process. So be sure your body language conveys an energetic, fit, honest and likeable persona, accompanying a bright, qualified and affable candidate. You’ll be the preferred choice every time.

D.A. Hayden and Michael Wilder

D.A. Hayden and Michael Wilder are founding partners of Hayden-Wilder, a one-on-one counseling firm specializing in preparing recent college graduates for the real world job market. For more information about Hayden-Wilder, visit www.haydenwilder.com.