Maybe your first job in high school was with a parent’s business or your uncle’s farm, or maybe your best friend’s mom got you a gig in a local store. And all you did was show up on day one and fill out some paperwork. Sadly, that’s not how things work in the working world after college. You'll apply for seemingly endless jobs. If a company thinks you might be a good fit for the role, you get a job interview. But as a college student or recent grad, this whole process is extra stressful because it’s so new and you often don’t know what to do. And there are so many things that can go wrong—right down to the way you’re sitting! Fortunately, the dreaded job interview doesn’t have to be as stressful as it seems if you stay calm and follow a few simple tips to avoid the small body languages snafus that can make a huge difference when it comes to making a good first impression on a potential employer.
1. Giving a weak handshake
One of the very first things you’ll probably do in a job interview is introduce yourself and shake someone’s hand. And though it doesn’t seem like a big deal, a handshake can often be an important part of a first impression. In fact, I’ve heard multiple college professors say this is the thing they dread most when it comes to teaching students how to be successful in the workplace! According to a study by the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, a “firm, confident...friendly handshake...is often promoted as good business practice.” So whenever you meet a potential employer, try to find a balance between a flopping fish out of water and cutting off the circulation in their hand.
2. Fidgeting in your seat
Similar to the weak handshake, another little body language mistake many people make in their job interviews is fidgeting. For example, if you’re sitting down, make sure you’re not swinging your legs, repeatedly crossing and uncrossing them, or tapping your feet. If you’re at opposite ends of a table, make sure you’re not tapping your fingers, or excessively leaning over on the table.
3. Talking too fast
So maybe this is more like actual language than body language, but the fact is that most people talk faster when they get nervous—either too fast to be understood (which is bad) or a rapid-fire stream of gibberish (also bad). Think before speaking in your job interviews. It’s okay to take a few seconds before answering a question! Even if you’re the type of person who never gets nervous, before your interviews, remind yourself to stop, take a deep breath, and focus on your questions and answers. After all, many jobs require you to perform under pressure to some extent, and showing that you can do that in a job interview can turn a potential disaster into a great first impression.
When it comes to body language, you should also be aware of how you’re sitting or standing. Not to sound like your mother or anything, but don’t slouch. Try to let your body relax, but not so much that you’re slumped in your chair. Being aware of your body’s position makes sure that you look attentive, focused, and interested, and it can also help calm your nerves.
5. Not making eye contact
You may notice this in everyday life when you’re having a normal conversation with someone. It gets really annoying when someone isn’t looking at you, doesn’t seem attentive, or is just distracted. Well, your interviewer is thinking the exact same thing. We don’t notice this nearly as much when we do it ourselves, but everyone’s guilty of not making contact. You don’t need to stare the person down 100% of the time, and it’s okay to look off for a few seconds while you’re coming up with an interview answer (everyone does that). But maintaining eye contact shows you’re genuinely interested in the conversation and staying connected, plus it makes you look more approachable and it will help you maintain your focus too.
You’ve got this
All this body language information can seem like a lot to remember, but in reality it’s not. When you walk into your job interviews, you don’t have to keep track of every little detail; just try to stay focused, calm, and engaged. Most importantly, remember to breathe! The person hiring you wants you to be a good fit just as much as you want to be a good fit. When you shut out distractions and just be yourself, everything else will come naturally.
Need to find more jobs to apply to? Try using these 9 Essential Job Search Resources for College Students to find some!