Whether you’re sitting in a conference room for a job interview or a coffee shop on a date, your body language speaks volumes before you even open your mouth. Are you nervous and impatient? Or engaged and interested? You spent so much time perfecting your resume, be sure to put your best foot forward in person, too.
We’ve all heard reminders from well-meaning parents and professors to “sit up straight!” or “don’t fidget!” But there are a couple of body language blunders that may surprise you. We got the scoop from body language expert Janine Driver. Here are the moves to avoid whether you’re on an interview or a date.
1. Gesturing wildly: Some of us naturally talk with our hands (guilty), and while this can sometimes convey enthusiasm, it can also backfire. “You want to keep your hand gestures within the frame of your body,” says Driver. “If it goes outside your shoulder length, you’re giving the impression that you’re out of control. Hand gestures should also match the level of your audience. Your gestures should be big on a big presentation. On a date, you should keep your gestures small, and don’t go outside your body.” As someone who’s prone to knocking over drinks in a bar, I’d have to agree with her!
2. Touching your face: Job seekers should avoid fidgeting (which can come off as anxious), but especially near the face. “There’s a myth out there that if you touch your face you’re lying,” explains Driver. “A lot of hiring managers believe that it’s true, so be careful of touching your face.” Also, looking at someone’s lips rather than their eyes can feel sexual, according to Driver, so steer clear of the lips unless you’re in a bar or similar setting.
3. Sitting up a little too straight: Is there such a thing as too-perfect posture? Yes, according to Driver. “You actually want to relax a little bit, because otherwise you’ll give the impression that you’re inflexible. Don’t look like Bill Murray slouched on a seat or appear too stiff like Lilith from ‘Cheers’.” So how do you find the happy medium? Picture yourself before the actual interview or date. “The best athletes literally visualize themselves being successful,” explains Driver. “The faking-it will seem more natural.”
4. Folding the hands: This is a polite, demure pose that many of us learned from our mothers. But Driver advises against it, especially in an interview setting. “That’s how people sit on ‘The Apprentice’ before they’re fired,” she points out. “It’s a begging pose and it’s very passive. [Employers] are looking for people who are charismatic. Hands should be relaxed on the table or desk or lap. You may want the other person to be able to see your hands, because it’s like putting all your cards on the table.”
5. Leaning back in your chair: When you lean forward, you convey interest. Conversely, leaning back expresses indifference or disinterest. Of course, you can also use this information when you’re sizing up an interviewer or date. “After you give them an answer, do they learn forward or back? If all of a sudden they lean backwards, you need to reevaluate or clarify,” suggests Driver. Finally, a way to figure out what they’re really thinking!