The Importance of Nonverbal Communication During a Job Search

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, December 2019

Many of the job seekers I work with are unaware of the amount of information they communicate nonverbally during a job search. Employers use this information to form impressions of candidates — usually within a few seconds. Here are some tips to avoid sending an unintended message.

Resume and cover letter: Employers receive dozens and sometimes hundreds of resumes in response to an opening posted on the Internet. To narrow the candidate pool to a manageable number, resumes that do not make a professional impression are eliminated.

Typographical and grammatical errors send the message that the candidate is careless, and that his work will contain errors, too. I frequently see people describe themselves as detail oriented on a resume that contains typos! Proof these documents carefully. Find one or two other people to proof them as well.

Personal appearance: Dressing inappropriately for a job interview makes the statement, “this person doesn’t fit in.” This applies whether someone dresses too casually or too formally. The general rule is to dress one step above how you would if you were working at the company. If you would be expected to wear trousers, a dress shirt and blazer as an employee, at an interview you would wear trousers, a dress shirt, blazer and necktie.

Overdressing can imply that you don’t fit in with a company’s culture or understand the way it does business. The definition of overdressed depends on an industry. A suit and tie would raise questions at a high technology company, but be expected at an investment bank.

Women should choose classic, conservative pieces in dark or neutral colors. Avoid short skirts, heels over 3″, low necklines and large pieces of jewelry.

It is critical that your clothing be clean and pressed. Your body must clean as well, and your hair neatly styled. You want the focus to be on your abilities and experience; not the stain on your shirt!

Speech: An interviewer must not only understand the words you say, but hear that you are confident and enthusiastic. These qualities are communicated largely by the tone of your voice. Monotone speech, with no change in tone, is lacking this emotional content. It communicates low energy and indifference.

Be aware of your rate and volume when speaking. Talking too quickly makes it hard for people to understand what you are saying, and makes you appear very nervous. A voice that is too soft conveys a lack of confidence; one that is too loud shows a lack of awareness of your surroundings.

Interrupting is universally considered rude. It is also associated with being a poor listener, a trait that makes you an undesirable job candidate.

If you experience significant problems with your speech, it is advisable to consult a speech language pathologist.

Facial expression: I consider smiling to be a basic job readiness skill. Recently a client told me that during interviews he sits with a blank expression. He has been looking for work for nine months. His lack of expression makes him appear to be unfriendly and disinterested.

The goal is a comfortable smile that looks genuine. You do not need to walk around with a large, goofy grin all day long. Practice in front of a mirror to find what works for you. There are no specific rules governing exactly when and how much to smile during an interview. Making a video recording of yourself at a practice (mock) interview is an excellent way to see how you appear to others.

Eye contact communicates that you are engaged in a conversation. If this is painful, distracting or exhausting for you, look at the space between a person’s eye brows to approximate eye contact. Be careful not to make too much eye contact, which is staring. A long, unbroken gaze is unsettling to others, and could be considered aggressive and hostile.

Many people are able to improve their nonverbal communication skills with practice. To learn more, I recommend Communicating Nonverbally, A Practical Guide to Presenting Yourself More Effectively, by Kathryn Young and Howard Travis.

Copyright 2019, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching