Body Language for Success

You bought the best outfit you could find, with a pair of killer shoes to match. You’ve researched the job you’re interviewing for, and you feel prepared for any question that may be thrown at you. While this sounds like the ideal scenario, if you don’t have the right body language, you still might not get the job. 

Body language determines not only how others perceive you, but also how you feel. The way you sit, stand and talk with your hands can aide in your success in an interview, and in your future career field. 

“Being mindful of one’s body and emotions, especially breathing, helps as a first step,” said Dr. Jeffrey Ligman, a behavioral psychologist at Alternatives in Psychological Consultation in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

“Mindfulness of body, emotions and one’s purpose start the process of accomplishing interpersonal goals.” 

Barbara Gunn, a communications professor at Mount Mary University, has helped students for years on how to correctly portray themselves for success. Gunn believes that if educators do not teach students proper body language, they are not completely ready to enter their specific workforce. 

“Students need to know more than they do now, and it takes time to develop the look that is yours that still fits within the parameters of the corporate culture,” Gunn said.

There are universal ways to communicate nonverbally and gain the confidence you need to get and keep a job, even though there are different majors and careers to pursue. 

“At the end of the day, the interviewers might forget what you said, they might forget what you did, but they’re not gonna forget how you made them feel,” said Jena Mahne, a career counselor at Mount Mary University.


The way you sit or stand can non-verbally speak to your persona. Gunn describes why sitting up straight is so important. 

“If we’re standing up straight or if we’re sitting straight, that tells another person that you have confidence in yourself,” Gunn said. “‘I’m prepared, I’m ready to take this on, I believe in myself.’” 

Mahne works to help students become ready for the workplace. Many Mount Mary students go to Mahne for help with succeeding at an upcoming interview, and she regularly helps them portray confidence through body language. 

Like Gunn, Mahne expresses the importance of proper posture. She explains how to prepare yourself to give off a self-confident stature. 

“There’s this fun thing you can do before an interview called the Superwoman stance,” Mahne said. “You go into the bathroom, you go in a stall, and for a couple minutes you’re standing like you’re Superwoman. Hands on your hips, legs spread, looking up. Literally, that particular stance is supposed to increase testosterone levels which increases confidence levels.”

Stereotypically, we tend to think of men as confident interviewers with strong handshakes and a strong presence. This is because they have more testosterone than women do. 

“If we’re able to up those levels (of testosterone) before an interview, we will naturally have more of that appearance of confidence that we might attribute to males,” Mahne said. 

Gunn describes the danger of slipping out of a confident stance. 

“Our bodies will betray us at times, though, if we start to slouch,” Gunn said. “It can mean you’re burdened, or it can also mean I don’t really wanna be here.” 

However, slouching isn’t the only negative posture or body position. There are many others to be wary of. 

“Arms crossed in front of your body, head down looking at the floor, not making eye contact,” Gunn said. “What you’re doing is you’re shrinking your body in, because you don’t want to take up that much space.” 

We’re all human, and we all doubt ourselves or become anxious in certain situations.  no one can read our minds. If we know how to disguise our nerves and self doubt, then we will be more successful at portraying confidence. 

“If you present yourself confidently, even if you’re not so sure about it inside, that’s what people are going to understand about you,” Gunn said. “Fake ’til you own it, or fake it ’til you believe it.” 

Mahne agrees that body language is one of the biggest nonverbal communication signals that relays how we feel and think of ourselves. 

“Certain things that (students) do with their body language actually exude a lot of confidence in who they are,” Mahne said. 


Eye Contact

Eye contact is just as important posture. Because students are used to focusing their attention on their phones, laptops or even homework, they have to make a conscious effort of looking up and engaging their eyes in conversation to produce more effective conversations.

There are ways to make the appropriate amount of eye contact in order to portray confidence and make those around you feel comfortable. 

“You want to make eye contact for just a couple seconds, and then look away, then make eye contact again,” Gunn said. “If you’re holding on too long, then the other person may feel intimidated or uncomfortable.” 

When it comes to eye make sure you have done your research about your current or potential place of work.

“Some cultures make eye contact and it’s expected, and our culture is one of them,” Gunn said. “In others, you don’t make direct eye contact with someone who has more power than you.

There are many cultures, so do your research and understand what the corporate culture is like.” 

Hand Placement

You’ve got the right posture, but now you’re suddenly very self-conscious of your hands. Where should they go? Should they stay in one place? While this may seem like overthinking, there are rules when it comes to hand placement. 

Gunn points out that it depends on the situation, but there are some universal rules to go by. 

“Probably always (putting your hands) in your lap is fine,” Gunn said. “You could put an elbow on an arm (of a chair). I always bring in a portfolio or something to write on so I’ve got that in my lap.” 

If you are close to a table between you and your potential employer, don’t be afraid to ground yourself. Make your presence known by placing an elbow on the table. Additionally, it’s okay to move hands from one position to another; for example, talking with hands. 

“We use gestures for a lot of reasons,” Gunn said. “One, maybe to reinforce what we’re saying, to embellish what we’re saying, to replace a word.” 

Reaching forward and using one’s hands to speak can engage an interviewer. Gunn says the act of reaching forward can show that the interviewee wants to create a relationship or union with her potential employer. 

While Gunn thinks hand gestures along with talking can help reinforce one’s point, everything is better in moderation. 

“I would practice not using as many gestures as I may naturally do,” Gunn said. “There is nothing wrong with gestures; they just don’t need to be exaggerated.” 

Hand placement should be natural and make sense. Mahne recommends starting off with your hands in your lap and then bringing them forward as the interviewer asks questions. 

“What that shows is that I’m engaged with you,” Mahne said. 

Mahne recommends placing hands on the table between you and your interviewer and leaning in. 

If you find that you click your pen, play with your hair, or have any other nervous ticks when in a high stress situation, keeping your hands occupied can significantly help. 

“I’ve had students who, to keep their hands occupied, they would actually have a mini stress ball or something in their hand, and having one hand below the desk squeezing it,” Mahne said. 

The Handshake

One of the biggest ways to communicate nonverbally is through handshaking. Your handshake can show positive professional qualities that employers are looking for. 

“Actually, the biggest indicator of confidence and professionalism is how you shake a hand,” Mahne said. 

According to Mahne, everyone should practice their handshakes because of how important they are. 

“A lot of people don’t know how to give a good handshake,” Mahne said. “We get a lot of dead fishes. Actually hold their hand, like you’d hold your kids’ hand, or you’d hold your partner’s hand. You want to grip it.” 

If you’re about to walk into an interview, keep in mind how valuable your handshake is. It’s up to you to portray that you are confident and ready to be there through the way you approach a handshake. 

“Initially, first impression is really important in an interview,” Mahne said. “So, you being the one who goes in for the handshake, don’t wait for the handshake to come to you, and, as you’re giving the handshake, you’re making eye contact.”       

Keep It Natural

You have the tools for a firm handshake, confident posture, and proper eye contact, but this will all fail if you appear too forced. 

Dr. Jeffrey Ligman believes that it is important to be centered, sincere and true to your values and emotions. 

“Trying to manipulate some body language or use of touch or anything like that is destined to come off as fake or manipulative,” Ligman said. 

Just breathe, and don’t think too hard about your body language, or else your interviewer won’t feel what you want them to feel: comfortable and sure of your confidence. 

Mahne recommends smiling and saying hello every morning to coworkers and employers. She also stresses the importance of being yourself. 

“Just walk how you walk,” Mahne said. “I don’t want people walking ways they don’t normally walk. That’s ridiculous. Walk in, be yourself, say hi.”

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