The college interview by an alum or an admissions officer is an opportunity for the university to which you are applying to get to know you. Regularly on our blogs and newsletters, we discuss the questions that are typically posed, what would be considered positive and negative responses, and how you can maximize your chances of having a successful interview. On our Informational Videos page, you will find a humorous and informative video about what you should definitely not do during a college alumni interview and we encourage you to check it out to avoid some of the common pitfalls.
But right now, we’re going to discuss a specific aspect of college interviews that you may not think about. This has nothing to do with what you say, but instead, it has everything to do with what you don’t say.
Nonverbal behavior can prove equally, if not more important, than verbal behavior in influencing an interviewer’s perception of a candidate. According to studies by Yale psychologists J.E. Dovido and S.L. Ellyson, nonverbal behaviors have the most significant influence on an interviewer’s perception of a candidate and has much to do with the power dynamics at play.
In an interview, the interviewer should feel as though he/she is in control. According to research in the 2008 book “What Every Body is Saying” by Joe Navarro, an FBI specialist in nonverbal behavior, the candidate should thus facilitate this feeling by leaning in towards the interviewer rather than away. The candidate should square his/her shoulders with the interviewer and make direct and frequent eye contact. The interviewee’s feet, the most accurate and truthful projection of one’s true feelings and intentions, should be planted towards the interviewer. If they are planted towards the door, even if this is unintentional, this literally conveys to the interviewer that the interviewee is uncomfortable and would like to get up and leave.
The candidate should also avoid touching his/her face or rubbing his/her hands together. These are nonverbal indicators of nervousness and a candidate should want to feel comfortable. But then again, a candidate should not feel too comfortable. A candidate should not lean back and put his/her feet up on a table (as obvious as this may be, it does indeed happen). A candidate should not put his/her hands in a steeple position in which each of the fingertips are touching in the praying position as this conveys too much confidence to the point where the interviewer may view the behavior as indicative of being arrogant, a surefire way to secure a negative interview evaluation.
You can’t control all of your nonverbal behaviors. It’s impossible. But you can be conscious of avoiding certain negative nonverbal behaviors as, often times, awareness of these behaviors can greatly impact their manifestation. Overall, a candidate should be humble and exhibit submissive nonverbal behaviors. This will, in turn, create a self-fulfilling prophecy as the interviewer will respond with dominant nonverbal behavior. And when an interviewer gets to exhibit dominant nonverbal behavior, often times he/she will leave the interview with a positive feeling. This, in all likelihood, will lead the interviewer to write a positive college interview evaluation on the candidate and the candidate’s chances of admission will be stronger for it.