Paper: How not to stuff up your job interview

There is a lot of nonsense talked about body language but there is also some truth.

Fidgeting is bad, even when you are nervous. You can practice not fidgeting but it doesn’t always work. I can tell you this: if, right now, I were sitting instead of standing, my foot would be shaking. It does, all the time. It’s not a nervous twitch, it’s just something my right foot does when I sit down. Apparently it burns calories.

Not enough, obviously.

But, if I were in an interview and there was no table to hide it behind, I’d plant my foot flat on the floor and leave it there. You might not notice but I’ve been fidgeting the whole time I’ve been talking to you. But because I’m standing I can disguise it: I walk around, I pick something up, I put it down. Am I nervous? No. I’m just never still, unless I specifically decide to be. In court, I would always twiddle my pen, in meetings I do the same. But, if I want to impress, I know that it’s a distraction and it prevents my message getting across effectively. So I don’t do it.

Don’t stare around the room. Pay attention to the panel. This might be difficult because you are in an alien environment and your natural inquisitiveness is to gather information.

So, look around, not obviously, when you walk in and before you sit down. Once you have sat down your only focus should be the people in front of you for, like it or not, they hold your future in their hands. Exactly what that future is or might be you don’t know but you do know one thing: you want to pass this stage of the process, even if, later, you decide to reject that employer.

There’s much talk of micro-expressions, mostly by people who don’t understand what they are talking about.

First, let’s be very clear: when you are sitting in an interview in front of three people, you are not going to consciously identify their micro-expressions, much less be able to interpret them. So, here’s the secret – you already do it a thousand times a day without knowing that you do it.

Micro-expressions affect us on an emotional level not a rational level. Psycho-scientists go into great detail over expressions they have identified in photographs and produce reports on what each expression means. But most of that is debunked when reality kicks in. For example, surveys show that racial characteristics blur our understanding of facial expressions: even the colour of a person’s skin can change a person’s perception of an expression. In one survey, it was established that many people see black Americans as looking angry but the same face, tinted white, is seen as avuncular.