Did you know some interviewers say that within the first 30-90 seconds of meeting a candidate, they already know whether or not they’ll hire them? How can this be possible? Nonverbal communication has a huge impact on the impression you make on your interviewer. Before you even begin to talk about your skills, your interviewer is watching your behavior, and deciding whether or not to write you off.
Unfortunately, more often than not, law firms are looking to screen out potential candidates, which may mean that great candidates could get passed over because of something small. The good news is that nonverbal communication is easy to practice – and we’ve got some tips for how to make a great first impression:
It may seem obvious, but smiling at the start of your interview (and even before when you’re waiting in the lobby) will not only have an effect on your interviewer’s first impression of you, it will actually impact how well you do in the interview. Research has shown that smiling can decrease stress, lower your blood pressure, and make you feel more relaxed and happy. What a great help at the start of an interview! 38% of surveyed bosses said that not smiling is a common interview mistake. It might convey nervousness or even make you seem unfriendly. In fact, people see smiling people as more intelligent, sincere, and reliable than people who don’t smile. Try to think positive, friendly thoughts so that your smile comes naturally as you’re greeting your interviewer, and try to maintain a positive expression on your face throughout the interview—without letting your smile become fake.
2. Make Eye Contact
Another commonly reported interview mistake is the candidate’s failure to make eye contact with their interviewer. In the first 15-30 seconds of your interview, eye contact is your first opportunity to make a connection with your interviewer. Often when candidates are nervous, they have a tendency to avoid eye contact, or, of equal concern, stare intensely without blinking at their interviewer. Throughout the interviewer, work to make natural eye contact like you would if you were having a conversation with a friend.
3. Give a Confident Handshake
We’re sure you’ve heard before that a weak handshake is an interview ‘No.’ As with the two tips prior, moderation here is key: you neither want to present a limp grip, nor one that is too strong. A good handshake demonstrates your confidence, assurance, and personability. Your handshake will go hand-in-hand (apologies for the pun) with your smile and eye contact to make that first 30 second impression that could make or break your interview. Practice these three tips in tandem with your family, friends, and at networking meetings to make a perfect nonverbal impression at your next interview.
4. Strike the Right Posture
Once you’ve nailed your greeting, you’ll usually be invited to sit, and your posture is important. Slouching actually makes you smaller and gives you the appearance of lacking confidence. If you lean back too much in your chair, you might come across as disinterested or overly confident, but if you sit too straight, you might appear nervous. This might seem like a lot to remember, but if you aim for straight but not stiff, natural but engaged, you’re likely to hit the right tone with your interviewer.
5. Don’t Cross Your Arms
Crossing your arms over your chest can feel like a natural, comfortable way to sit, but non-verbally you’re giving off the message that you’re closed-off or ready to go on the defensive. Keeping your arms and hands relaxed in your lap or rested on the table, will prevent you from making this unwelcome impression (and can actually help you perform better in your interview).
6. Minimize Hand Gestures and Fidgeting
Using your hands too much in an interview can be distracting for your interviewer. You want them focused on your skills and stories, not the way your hands are moving in front of you. Similarly, fidgeting in your seat, readjusting your position too many times, touching your face, or playing with your hair, can make you appear distracted, disinterested, or nervous. To prevent yourself from these behaviors, clasp your hands in your lap. You can use them from time to time, but starting from this position – and returning to it after you’ve made your point –will keep you just conscious enough of your use of them, without distracting you from answering well.
7. Wear the Right Attire
Of course one of the first things that will create an impression is what you’re wearing. Do as much research as possible before the interview to find out what the dress code is at the law firm and try to dress in line, or one “step-up”. Most managers prefer candidates to avoid bright colors or wild patterns, but the most important thing is that you look polished—no matter what level of dress code is appropriate. Avoid wrinkles, flashy jewelry, chipped fingernails, ill-fitting clothes, etc.
8. Watch Your Tone
Your tone of voice can also have more impact than you know. Try to make yourself sound cheerful, friendly, and confident. Avoid “up-talking” at the end of your sentences, as that will make you seem uncertain or young. Vary your tone to keep your interviewers engaged.
If you haven’t interviewed in awhile, or aren’t finding success when you interview, your nonverbal communication could be the key to getting your interviewer to lean in with interest. Make a great first impression by dressing the part, being friendly with your facial expressions and body posture, and minimizing distractions in the interview. Practicing with a friend, family member, or recruiter will give you the confidence you need to nail these nonverbal techniques in your next interview and have the law firm offering you your dream job.
For more job seeking tips, check out these articles:
This blog was originally published in 2014 and has been updated to reflect current trends.