Body Language Tips For Job Interviews, Interviewing Tips

Body Language Tips for Job Interviews, Interviewing Tips
Interviewers go with their gut.

Come-to-work eyes: Secrets of interview success

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ONE thing you can be sure of when you walk into an interview is that you're not there to be tested on what you know. The people sitting in front of you are already aware that when it comes to technical skills and qualifications, you tick all the boxes. What they're dying to find out is what you're like as a person - whether you'll fit in, whether they can trust you, how you're likely to behave at the office party. From now on, it's all about chemistry - or, more accurately, psychology.

So how do you give yourself the best chance of success? The most common piece of advice you'll get is to "be yourself". Forget that, it'll only help if you're the chief executive's cousin. A better strategy is to exploit the psychological shortcuts that interviewers unconsciously use when deciding whether or not they like someone - cues such as eye contact and body language. We all use them when meeting someone for the first time, and research shows that interviewers rely on these more than rational analysis when assessing a candidate.

We're not advocating wholesale deception, just a bit of fine-tuning to help pitch things in your favour...

First impressions count

When we meet someone for the first time, we make our minds up about various aspects of their personality almost instantaneously. We can't help ourselves. Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov at Princeton University found that showing people an unfamiliar face for just one-tenth of a second is long enough for them to form judgements about the person's attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence and aggressiveness. Having more time to deliberate doesn't change our opinions, it only increases our confidence in them (Psychological Science, vol 17, p 592).

No doubt there are good evolutionary reasons for this, though it's not clear how accurate such snap judgements areMovie Camera. Unfortunately, your interviewer is as likely to jump to quick conclusions as the rest of us. So although it may seem obvious, be sure to walk into that room looking upbeat and friendly.

And it's best to keep it up, at least for half a minute. Tricia Prickett, while at the University of Toledo in Ohio, found that untrained observers who watched a video of the first 20 to 30 seconds of a job interview were astonishingly accurate at predicting whether the applicant would be offered the job. That doesn't mean the observers were especially good at picking good candidates. It means the interviewers, despite being fully trained, still go with their initial gut instinct.

Can we change an interviewer's first impression? That's difficult, but not impossible, says Frank Bernieri, who studies personality perception at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Though it's easier to dislodge a positive impression than a negative one, he says. "Socially undesirable information, such as picking your nose or farting, tends to be weighted more in our assessments. What this means is that good impressions are always at risk of being trashed at any moment."

DO be prepared to turn on the charm right from the start

DON'T pick your nose. Bad first impressions are even harder to dislodge than bogies

Look fabulous

Attractive people make more money and go further in their careers because we are all biased towards beauty - unfortunate but true. This was shown by V. Bhaskar at University College London in a study of a Dutch TV show in which the highest-scoring player at the end of a round chooses which competitor to eliminate. He found that the least attractive players were twice as likely to be eliminated, despite scoring no worse than the others.

Attractive people make more money and go further because we're biased towards beauty - unfortunate but true

One reason for this is what's known as the halo effect: people assume that someone who scores highly in one character trait also scores highly in others. Social psychologist Richard Nisbett demonstrated that the thought process behind the halo effect is almost entirely subconscious (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol 35, p 250). Use this to your advantage: most interviewers are mugs just like everyone else when it comes to the subtleties of social psychology.

DO make an effort: dress sharp and make sure you look your best

DON'T be tempted to test out the halo effect using your comic genius

Start with the handshake

Unless you plan on abseiling through the interviewer's window, shaking hands with them is probably the first opportunity you'll get to make an impression. Seize it. But not too hard. Give it a nice firm press, then some up and down movement.

That may sound disquietingly ritualistic, but several studies have found that people unconsciously equate a firm handshake with an extroverted, sociable personality - and that's more likely than a shy disposition to please an interviewer. What's more, a handshake can set the tone for the entire interview because it's one of the first nonverbal clues an applicant gives about their personality, says Greg Stewart at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, who last year tested the theory in mock interviews with 98 students. He found that those who had a firm handshake were more likely to be hired (Journal of Applied Psychology, vol 93, p 1139).

Looking for a job in science or technology? Take a look at the latest opportunities on

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at

Mind Reading Computers, Computers that Read Facial Expressions

I have blogged before about the research on computers that read facial expressions, paralanguage and gestures. Here is research I am following at Cambridge.
Automatic inference of complex mental states

Promotional material for the silent screen star Florence Lawrence displaying a range of emotions
People express their mental states, including emotions, thoughts, and desires, all the time through facial expressions, vocal nuances and gestures. This is true even when they are interacting with machines. Our mental states shape the decisions that we make, govern how we communicate with others, and affect our performance. The ability to attribute mental states to others from their behaviour, and to use that knowledge to guide our own actions and predict those of others is known as theory of mind or mind-reading. It has recently gained attention with the growing number of people with Autism Spectrum Conditions, who have difficulties mind-reading.

Existing human-computer interfaces are mind-blind — oblivious to the user’s mental states and intentions. A computer may wait indefinitely for input from a user who is no longer there, or decide to do irrelevant tasks while a user is frantically working towards an imminent deadline. As a result, existing computer technologies often frustrate the user, have little persuasive power and cannot initiate interactions with the user. Even if they do take the initiative, like the now retired Microsoft Paperclip, they are often misguided and irrelevant, and simply frustrate the user. With the increasing complexity of computer technologies and the ubiquity of mobile and wearable devices, there is a need for machines that are aware of the user’s mental state and that adaptively respond to these mental states.

A computational model of mind-reading
Drawing inspiration from psychology, computer vision and machine learning, our team in the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge has developed mind-reading machines — computers that implement a computational model of mind-reading to infer mental states of people from their facial signals. The goal is to enhance human-computer interaction through empathic responses, to improve the productivity of the user and to enable applications to initiate interactions with and on behalf of the user, without waiting for explicit input from that user. There are difficult challenges:

It involves uncertainty, since a person’s mental state can only be inferred indirectly by analyzing the behaviour of that person. Even people are not perfect at reading the minds of others.
Automatic analysis of the face from video is still an area of active research in its own right.
There is no ‘code-book’ to interpret facial expressions as corresponding mental states.

Processing stages in the mind-reading system
Using a digital video camera, the mind-reading computer system analyzes a person’s facial expressions in real time and infers that person’s underlying mental state, such as whether he or she is agreeing or disagreeing, interested or bored, thinking or confused. The system is informed by the latest developments in the theory of mind-reading by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, who leads the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge.

Prior knowledge of how particular mental states are expressed in the face is combined with analysis of facial expressions and head gestures occurring in real time. The model represents these at different granularities, starting with face and head movements and building those in time and in space to form a clearer model of what mental state is being represented. Software from Nevenvision identifies 24 feature points on the face and tracks them in real time. Movement, shape and colour are then analyzed to identify gestures like a smile or eyebrows being raised. Combinations of these occurring over time indicate mental states. For example, a combination of a head nod, with a smile and eyebrows raised might mean interest. The relationship between observable head and facial displays and the corresponding hidden mental states over time is modelled using Dynamic Bayesian Networks.


Images from the Mind-reading DVD
The system was trained using 100 8-second video clips of actors expressing particular emotions from the Mind Reading DVD, an interactive computer-based guide to reading emotions. The resulting analysis is right 90% of the time when the clips are of actors and 65% of the time when shown video clips of non-actors. The system’s performance was as good as the top 6% of people in a panel of 20 who were asked to label the same set of videos.

Previous computer programs have detected the six basic emotional states of happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust. This system recognizes complex states that are more useful because they come up more frequently in interactions. However, they are also harder to detect because they are conveyed in a sequence of movements rather than a single expression. Most other systems assume a direct mapping between facial expressions and emotion, but our system interprets the facial and head gestures in the context of the person’s most recent mental state, so the same facial expression may imply different mental states in diffrent contexts.

Current projects and future work

Monitoring a car driver
The mind-reading computer system presents information about your mental state as easily as a keyboard and mouse present text and commands. Imagine a future where we are surrounded with mobile phones, cars and online services that can read our minds and react to our moods. How would that change our use of technology and our lives? We are working with a major car manufacturer to implement this system in cars to detect driver mental states such as drowsiness, distraction and anger.

Current projects in Cambridge are considering further inputs such as body posture and gestures to improve the inference. We can then use the same models to control the animation of cartoon avatars. We are also looking at the use of mind-reading to support on-line shopping and learning systems. The mind-reading computer system may also be used to monitor and suggest improvements in human-human interaction. The Affective Computing Group at the MIT Media Laboratory is developing an emotional-social intelligence prosthesis that explores new technologies to augment and improve people’s social interactions and communication skills.

We are also exploring the ethical implications and privacy issues raised by this research. Do we want machines to watch us and understand our emotions? Mind-reading machines will undoubtedly raise the complexity of human-computer interaction to include concepts such as exaggeration, disguise and deception that were previously limited to communications between people.

Further projects and links
Demonstrations of the system with volunteers at the CVPR Conference in 2004
Royal Society 2006 Summer Science Exhibition (including video)
Affective computing group at MIT
Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge
The mind-reading DVD

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at


Body Language and Neuroscience

"Researchers at the University of Utah and University of Washington claim to have been able to convert brain signals into words. Electrodes attached to an epileptic patient's brain recorded his brain waves as he repeated several words, which a computer later matched to his speech 76 to 90 percent of the time."

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at

Is There A Machine That Can Read Your Mind?

You know I love Neuroscience research. I have been reading all the research on what some term, "Mind Reading" capabilities of brain scans. Here is an article about some of the new research on brain scanning that shows what a person is seeing.

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at

Posh's $220,000 Birthday Spree!

Talk about being surprised! Victoria "Posh" Beckham was elated when she boarded a private jet to Paris with her husband David to celebrate her birthday. Patti Wood, body language expert, weighs in on their celebration for Life & Style Weekly. Find out what Patti says their body language reveals at the link!

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at