Ace the Interview—Without Saying a Word

Woman near cab in the city

You’ve put so much effort into landing this interview, what’s the final touch that will help you nail an offer? In many cases, it boils down to what you don’t say,” asserts Joe Navarro (@Navarrotells), a business consultant, former FBI agent and author of “What Every BODY Is Saying.” 

“Things like your handshake or how long you take to answer a question can make or break the deal,” he says. Follow these six strategies to walk away with an offer in hand.
Nail the first three seconds
You’ve heard it before, but it’s key: your interviewer will form an opinion of you within three to seven seconds—and a handshake is often a big part of that encounter. What’s key: Mirror the grip you receive while making good eye contact. Be sure your hand isn’t sweaty, or that your grasp isn’t too weak, or too strong. Bear in mind that handshakes, like all rituals, are cultural. In Utah, they have what’s called a Mormon handshake that’s firm and aggressive. In India and Vietnam, people tend to give what Westerners might consider “weak” or gentler handshakes. Mimic whatever you’re given—you’ll sense if it’s going to be weak or strong, prolonged or quick—just go with the flow, says Navarro.

Be a fast responder
You’ve heard the advice to do practice interviews with a friend. The logic here isn’t to come up with the right answers—most interviews will have a few surprises—but to become comfortable making quick, on-the-spot replies. Taking too long to answer a question can make you seem uncertain, not thoughtful. Not sure of an answer? Don’t scrunch up your face or fidget. Ask if you can come back to the question in a few minutes, after you’ve collected your thoughts.

Project confidence
We all have certain habits when we’re nervous. If you’re aware of them beforehand (another reason to rehearse with a friend), you can head them off, and look like the poised pro you are. A few ticks to be aware of:

  • Avoid frequently touching your neck, playing with jewelry or biting or compressing your lips. These gestures tell people you’re anxious.
  • Ditto, slouching. Sit up and lean forward slightly—it’s the position that female newscasters take.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize. In most cultures, only the business owner–or person in charge—is allowed to look wherever they want. As an interviewee, you’re in the hot seat, so keep your gaze fixed on the interviewer.
  • Lower your register. Margaret Thatcher learned that she was taken more seriously when she used a slightly deeper voice. In this case, the squeaky wheel doesn’t get the grease.
  • Use your hands to illustrate and emphasize your points. Studies suggest that gesturing and speaking are intricately linked—keep your hands still and you’re apt to communicate less effectively. You may think you do this automatically, but compared with men, women tend to gesture less. To see excellent body language in action, Navarro recommends watching Mary Callahan Erdoes, CEO of JP Morgan Asset Management.

Look the part

You’ve heard the advice that once you’re in an organization, you need to dress for the job you want. In an interview, you should dress for where you want to be. Interviewing for a finance company? Get a tailored suit. In a very casual office, express your own style (but neatly). If you’re not sure about attire, it’s worth a call to HR to ask about the dress code. Keep jewelry and fragrance to a minimum; you don’t want to distract with flash–or an overpowering scent. And this isn’t the time to trudge in with a bulging backpack or tattered gym bag. Stick with a haute tote, a sleek portfolio or a compact laptop case.

Be happy
You want this job, right? So show it. If you let yourself feel jazzed, that enthusiasm will shine through. And it matters. Most employers say a good attitude (and manners) will overcome many faults—no one expects perfection.