Now that interviews are back to happening in person instead of on Zoom, it's becoming necessary to think about more than just what's going on with your upper torso in an interview situation. And you do need to think hard, because if you get your body language wrong, then interviewers will subconsciously decide you might be incompetent.
This is the implication of a new study by a student in Canada, who set up an experiment involving 823 Americans with management experience. The 823 men and women in the sample were asked to rate interviewees who displayed anxious body language and interviewees who didn't. When anxious body language was displayed, members of the sample picked up on interviewees' anxiety 75% of the time. Perceptions of interviewees' anxiety led them to assign lower performance ratings.
The 823 people in the sample weren't finance professionals specifically, but the questions the interviewees were asked resembled the standard sorts of Hirevue questions associated with banks' graduate interview procedures: 'Describe a time when your work required particular attention to detail', 'Describe a time when you had to prioritise competing tasks or projects', and, 'Describe a time when a colleague explained a particularly complicated concept, task, or procedure to you.' One of the hypothetical jobs the interviewees were rated on was 'bank consumer representative;' another was 'bank data clerk.'
What kind of anxious body language did the interviewees display? The student asked them to do three simple things: to alternate looking at the interviewer and looking away for approximately half the time; to touch their neck five times across three answers; and to shift their legs five times across three answers.
These relatively minor gestures were sufficient to communicate anxiety, and to skew perceptions of interviewees' performance. However, the appendix to the study lists various other instances of body language associated with poor interview outcomes, including any kind of fidgeting, any kind of touching your own face or body with your hands, licking of biting your lips, looking away from the person you're talking to, and having a "flat" facial expression.
"Even when candidates demonstrated their qualifications through their responses, they are penalized when they display nonverbal behaviour associated with anxiety," notes the student. "Qualified yet anxious candidates may therefore be overlooked by organizations."
You have been warned.
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