When it comes to doing well at your startup job interview it is as much about what you’re saying with your body as it is with your mouth. To the trained eye, your body language will either affirm your assertions or betray your untruths, and it will certainly tell your interviewer much more about your personality over the meeting than your spoken answers ever will. Used well, body language can also help build rapport and project an air of confidence and poise which might well help land you that dream startup job. After all, people buy people.
Here are five key things to think about when it comes to nonverbal communication and what your body language is saying about you during your startup job interview:
1. Make your handshake count
It’s over in an instant, but the effect lives on. The way you shake another person’s hand is one of the most important things we do when it comes to giving first impressions. A digit-crunching grasp might have your interviewer thinking you’re trying to compensate for something missing, while a soft, limp-fingered squeeze portrays zero confidence and low self-esteem.
In 2000, researchers found that a firm handshake conveyed extraversion and emotional expressiveness, and was negatively related to shyness and neuroticism, leading the team to conclude: “Given what we know about the potency of first impressions, it might be a good idea to heed the recommendations of experts on handshaking etiquette and try to make that first handshake a firm one”.
Add in eye contact and an authentic smile, and landing that fintech job or whatever role it is you want so much will be one step closer.
2. Mind those arms
We are all creatures of habit, and in times of stress or worry reach for those behaviours we know will calm us. But in the face-to-face interview setting, startup and fintech job candidates should keep in mind how certain actions might appear.
If you are likely to tense up and cross your arms under pressure, then you run the risk of giving your interviewer the (probably very accurate) impression that you are on the defensive or anxious. It will also send out a sign that you are being distant, and potentially mentally shut off from the experience. Similarly, keeping your hands behind your back will inhibit movement and make you look stiff.
Keeping your arms (and legs if they’re on show) uncrossed conveys openness and engagement, both powerful responses to the interview setting, and is certainly something to bear in mind when prepping for your startup job interview.
Just to throw a cat amongst the pigeons, two psychologists from the University of Rochester, USA found we’re 30% more likely to stay focused on a tricky task if we keep our arms crossed. So, while it might be prudent to keep things open during the bulk of the startup job interview, if you’re putting your mind to a difficult question, a bit of overlapping limbs might actually serve you well.
3. Eye contact’s good, staring is not
According to a poll carried out on behalf of CareerBuilder, 67% of 2,500 hiring managers surveyed listed failing to make eye contact as one of the biggest body language mistakes made during interviews.
And it’s hardly surprising. Just remind yourself what it’s like when you meet someone for the first time and they can never meet your eye. It doesn’t give you a very good first impression, right? At best you might feel sorry for the person because they’re so painfully shy; but you could end up thinking they’re shifty and have something to hide. Interviewers for startup jobs will feel exactly the same say.
The advice here is definitely not about maintaining a constant gaze during your startup job interview, as that will come across as aggressive and downright creepy. Not only that, a 2016 study in Japan suggests that the effort of trying to hold eye contact can actually hinder your mental reasoning, after researchers found the same mental resources used for maintaining eye contact were used for complex tasks.
Eye contact should come naturally and follow the ebb and flow of the conversation. In relaxed social settings this usually means holding eye contact at the start of something we say, then letting them wander as we continue to talk, regaining eye contact as we finish as a cue to the other person to let them know it’s their time to speak. Formal interviews for startup and fintech companies interviews should be no different.
4. Hold power in your posture at your startup job interview
Having bad posture can send out all the wrong signals to your interviewer. Lounging back in your seat speaks of arrogance, for example, while leaning forward can appear aggressive, and slouching exudes laziness and even low self-esteem.
On the flipside, having a strong posture can set you at a great advantage. Researchers at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management claim people who have better posture are more likely to think and act in a powerful way, as well as conveying confidence and leadership.
The general advice is to sit upright with our feet planted firmly on the floor and our hips back in the chair, resting an arm on the armrest of the chair if there is one. Angling ourselves towards the interviewer is widely recognised as a nonverbal sign of respect.
5. Smile naturally
It’s definitely a good idea to smile during your startup job interview or any other interview for that matter, and particularly when you meet your interviewer for the first time and say goodbye. This is not only polite, it also gives the impression that you are a happy, or at the very least contented person.
But perhaps more pertinent to the interview process is that smiling is contagious, and that when we smile genuinely, we experience considerable pleasure (the same as eating 2,000 chocolate bars, according to one study!). The upshot of all this is that if you and the interviewer are both smiling, you’re more likely to be sharing a mutually pleasurable experience and establishing a connection.
It’s not a good idea to smile the whole time, however! A fake smile can be spotted a mile off, and the last thing you want is for your interviewer to think you’re inauthentic. If you’re looking for genuine ways to smile, try to discuss subjects you are passionate about so you can show real happiness.
These are, of course, generalised tips for your startup job interview. For some people beaming natural smiles, firm handshakes and striking the perfect balance of eye contact come naturally. For others, and particularly shy and introverted types, it can be very difficult. These suggestions are things to think about and be aware of, but your endeavours to address them should not be all-consuming; too much time spent focusing on controlling your body language during the interview may lead you to forgetting what the interviewer has just said or asked you. (For more advice, read our blog post on 10 tough questions and how to answer them.)
While good body language is important, startup companies will always be looking for well-rounded applicants. Your skills, character, enthusiasm, experience and several other factors also play a part. If you’re worried your body language is letting you down, remember that weaknesses in one area can be compensated by strengths in another.