Interview impressions: The power of a smile

Picture of a woman smiling with confidence in a job interviewMost people know that their body language is really important in job interviews.

First impressions count – especially when you’re competing for jobs – and so much of a first impression is non-verbal.

You probably know not to sit with your arms crossed in an interview, that it can make you appear closed-off or defensive.

You probably know that slouching in front of your recruiters looks sloppy or lazy. That extending your arms across chair-backs can read as dominating or arrogant. That jiggling your leg makes you look jittery (not to mention being distracting to your panel).

What we often forget? Our faces.

Arguably the most important way we convey our feelings and thoughts… How we communicate our personality, our warmth and our level of interest.

Basically, how we make a connection with others.

As someone who spent over a decade interviewing people, I know just how important this is, and when I help people prepare for job interviews, I’m always watching for the connection that someone’s making – or not.

Because long after you’ve stopped being aware of it, after the initial nice-to-meet-you eye contact and smile, your face keeps talking… and most people have no idea what theirs are saying.

A case in point… One friend of mine has spent half her life fielding annoying comments from strangers – Smile! Cheer up! It might never happen! – because she looks seriously unhappy when she’s ‘off-line’.

Closer to home, on several occasions my partner’s face has almost started fights.

When he’s not thinking about it – when his face is at rest – his features set in a way that looks downright hostile. Worse still, when he’s lost in thought, he has an unfortunate habit of staring right through people. I’ve been on the other end of it, and it’s truly unnerving – but he’s completely unaware of the messages he’s sending.

In pop culture, this face has a name: Resting bitchy face.

Which is kind of funny… unless you’re in the market for a job.

If you’re competing for a role that you truly need or really want, particularly in a tight labour market, then how you connect with the interview panel is really crucial.

Now, I know that my other half tends to look grumpy… and I make allowances for it. But your interview panel will not extend you the same courtesy. More than that, they’ll instinctively respond to the signals that your face is sending.

This isn’t trivial – we’re social animals, wired to read facial expressions. Psychology studies have found that even a neutral face can trigger a negative emotional reaction in the viewer.

Failure to smile or communicate warmth – to connect, build trust and rapport – can be read as a social threat.

Not the reaction you want to create in your interview.

People tend to warm to, trust – and hire – people they connect with. People they like. Your interviewers are human, and they’ll respond to you on that level, above and beyond the understanding you have of the vacant role they’re looking to fill, or how well you can articulate your suitability for the job.

So if you’re preparing for interview, check in with your resting face. 

Ask the people who know you, how you come across. Be specific. What does your face do, when you’re listening… or thinking… or just simply not paying attention to it? What impression does your expression give people?

If you’re serious about presenting well, I encourage you to go a step further and video yourself being interviewed – I promise you, what you see, you won’t forget. And you can’t change what you’re not aware of.

Your face sends signals all the time, so make sure they’re on message. Make sure that the messages you send are positive ones. Smile, engage, connect.

When you’re interviewing, what’s your face telling people?

 

Have an important interview coming up? Let me know if I can help you prepare!

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