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Give yourself a hand (or two) during interview


By Liam Horan, Career Coach & Managing Director, Sli Nua Careers

Q: When I was in school, I was told it was crucial to sit still in job interviews. Hands down by my side, feet planted firmly on the floor. That was then: now, I’m 44 years of age and I am a, shall we say, expressive speaker: I move my hands, I shrug my shoulders, and I incorporate various other movements and gestures when speaking. Whenever I go for a job interview, the advice given to my 17 year-old self continues to ring in my ears and I find myself defaulting to it – your thoughts, please. (DO, email).

A: Unlike Janis Ian, I don’t think you learned the truth at 17, writes LIAM HORAN, CAREER COACH, SLI NUA CAREERS. Let those hands flow, let the movement take you. It’s what you do, it’s how you roll, and to force yourself back into the straitjacket for a job interview is to curb part of your essence. It will leave you concentrating on absolutely the wrong thing when you need laser focus on the stuff that matters – your skills, their needs, your enthusiasm, and so on. I spend my days asking people to ‘come off the stage’ – to stop performing – to talk to me in much the same way they would if they met me in a coffee shop.

I see people transform in front of my eyes when they realise it’s not just ‘okay’ to deploy their usual hand movements, it’s actually desirable to do so.

Some benefits of hand movements:

1. Clearly, as you describe, they are part of how you talk. Therefore you are more flowing when you use them – if you don’t, you’re cutting off your own supply.

What-should-I-do-with-my2. Nervous tension has to go somewhere. Try to sit still for too long in an interview, and the tension will pop up. A twitch likely manifest itself. Twitches are like hair nits: once in situ, hard to stop. In my case, it’s in my neck (the twitch, that is). Now you’re in the interview trying to cover up your twitch, and twitches thrive in those circumstances, and you get physical movements that you can’t control. Bad, difficult scene.

3. They resolve the tricky question of ‘what should I do with my hands?’ Speak with them, that’s what.

As long as you don’t do physical harm to yourself or the interviewer, or take down the spinning fan overhead, our put out the window, I would urge you to go through your usual routine when next you appear in front of the firing squad, sorry, interview panel.

Which leads to the obvious question: what should someone who isn’t a hand-mover do in an interview? Not a lot different to what they would usually do, I would say, but I would point them to point 2 above. Some movement is generally a good thing to avoid what I outlined above. It could be a shift left or right in the chair, a little hand movement – I would argue that very few people sit totally still in their day-to- day engagements.

The worst thing would be to resolve to follow the advice given to DO at 17. If no movements happen, that’s fine: but don’t set yourself the goal of avoiding movement at all costs.

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