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Nonverbal Communications in Interviews

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One of your first means of communicating nonverbally in interviews is by your arrival time. We in the United States are extremely sensitive to time signals: we hate to be kept waiting and are deeply offended when we feel others are wasting our time. In many other cultures, appointment times are viewed flexibly and business interactions are routinely preceded by lengthy sociable interactions. You might annoy a South American business person, for example, by insisting that a meeting start on time and by immediately launching into your business agenda. The opposite tends to be true in the United States. Also, we routinely play out status struggles through time games: if I want to tell you Tm hot and you're not, I may keep you waiting outside my office or put you on hold for several minutes in the middle of a phone conversation.

You may well run into some of these games as you interview, but take them in stride. Always aim to arrive 5 to 10 minutes early. This interval will allow you to check out the setting and give you time to compose yourself before the start of the interview. If you are unfamiliar with the area in which the organization is located, you may want to travel to the site and get your bearings before the day of the interview so that you do not have to search anxiously for the right place just before the interview.

Wait patiently for your interviewer, but not to the point of excessive self effacement. Be willing to wait up to a half hour to interview with an individual and make sure he or she knows you have arrived before you begin your countdown. When you reach the 30 minute cutoff, politely inform the secretary, receptionist, or assistant that you are sorry you must leave because you are eager to talk with Mr. or Ms. Late. There is no need to explain why you must go. See if you can reschedule on the spot; if not, set a time to call about another appointment. This move may seem risky, but it actually communicates your sense of self worth and generally pays off. Frequently your interviewer will be apologetic and eager to re schedule, which shifts the power in your direction. You must, of course, use some discretion when applying the 30 minute rule. Sometimes delays are unavoidable, and sometimes you may prefer waiting to re scheduling, especially if you are interviewing relatively far from your home base.

As you decide how to handle a particular situation, however, bear in mind that relatively few delays of over 30 minutes are truly unavoidable. Also, remember the cultural norms governing time use in the United States: willingness to wait indefinitely will implicitly put you in a one down position, which is not the place from which you want to begin your bid for employment. Finally, consider the impact on your performance of spending more than a half hour in anxious anticipation. Waiting under such circumstances can be exhausting and can impair yourself presentation.

Your handling of time during the interview is also important. You should be willing to spend a short period on small talk, taking cues from the interviewer. If your interviewer wants to get immediately down to business, follow suit. If, on the other hand, your interviewer seems willing to pursue small talk indefinitely, shift smoothly into your agenda as soon as you comfortably can. Remember that you have a limited amount of time and that you want to communicate your eagerness to talk about work. As the interview draws to a close, be especially sensitive to cues that signal your interviewer's desire to bring the session to an end. Do not try to prolong the interview, unless you have something very important to say and can say it briefly.


Anything you put on your body or carry into the interview with you is termed an artifact in the lingo of nonverbal communications. Clothes, jewelry, accessories, perfume, and hair style are all artifacts, and artifacts tend to be very articulate. Humans respond strongly to artifacts, which is the reason we spend so much time and money on them. You need not, however, make a fetish of them you do not have to go out and buy a $500 briefcase to go on a job interview.

A good rule of thumb concerning dressing for interviews is to select clothes slightly more dressy than the everyday norm for the organization. If people hang out in T shirts and dungarees, go to the interview in a pressed shirt and slacks or a skirt and blouse. If they wear slacks and sports jackets, go in a business suit or a dress and blazer. Try out your outfit before the interview if it is new; new clothes have a tendency to behave in unexpected ways. Shoes that felt comfortable in the store may give you blisters after walking a few blocks on pavement. Hemlines that seemed attractive as you stood in front of a full length mirror may sit uncomfortably close to your navel when you seat yourself for an interview.

Keep jewelry on the conservative side and make sure your shoes are polished and clean. Stick to relatively conservative colors and patterns, especially if you are male. Don't overdo the cologne or perfume. Avoid dragging luggage into interviews women especially are prone to come with hands and arms burdened. I've seen women come into interviews juggling a briefcase, a large shoulder bag, a coat draped over one arm, an umbrella, and a portfolio for taking notes. Then, they must search nervously for somewhere to ditch most of these accessories and spend awkward minutes searching through them to find a copy of their resume.

Take a briefcase or a bag or a portfolio, not all three.

Above all, however, dress in a way that makes you feel confident about your appearance. There is really no need to agonize about dress or to read tons of books on the topic: there are more productive ways to spend your preparation time. As long as you look neat and appropriately attired and feel comfortable with your artifacts, you will do fine.

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