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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

Why You Can’t Underestimate the Importance of Body Language When You're Going After What You Want

As you prepare to watch this year’s most anticipated TV—the Presidential debate between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton, of course—remember that there’s a whole lot more going on than the issues being debated. As the opponents go back and forth on foreign policy issues, education, economic policy, immigration, and women’s rights, you’ll no doubt notice, without even trying, the composure and body language of the respective candidates.

And lest you think that hardly matters, let me bring your attention to the year 2000, when candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush battled it out in a debate that some say was a “deciding factor” in that year’s presidential election. Whether it was your first or fourth time voting, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the fact that a person’s brilliance and expertise can be outdone by terrible body language. The New York Times starts out the article detailing Gore’s debacle with words of wisdom for Hillary Clinton: “You can be whip-smart in a presidential debate, yet still blow it spectacularly.”

What does this mean for you? Why, that you can be as intelligent as they come, have rehearsed interview answers that’d impress even the most difficult audience, and be the best person for the job, but if your body language is off, it could really hurt you. If you come across as arrogant, annoyed, superior, frazzled, put out, over-confident, like you’re just so sure you’ve got it in the bag, you could lose the offer before you even get shown out of the conference room.

It doesn’t matter if you had a hell of a trip getting to the office for the interview—rain happens, bad commutes are a reality, keys get misplaced at the most inopportune times, and technology stops functioning when you need it the most—you have to arrive at your interview appearing unaffected and unscathed if you want to get off on the right foot.

On the flipside, if you experience no difficulties but are so positive that you’re going to ace the interview, that attitude can actually come back to bite you in the butt, too. Of course, hiring managers want a person who’s confident in his or her abilities, but there’s that fine line between arrogance and confidence, and you risk crossing it the first time you silently convey that you could be running the department better than the person sitting in front of you.

Your job is to get the job, and relying on your skills and resume alone isn’t enough. Yes, the interviewer wants to ensure that you’re competent, but he also wants to get a warm feeling from you. Muse columnist and entrepreneur, Jeremy Schifeling explains how one psychology theory suggests that flash judgment is based on both competence: Are you good at what you do? And warmth: Do I like you?

Note how these traits affect your viewing of the debate tonight, and take that education with you the next time you head into an interview or even a big meeting with your boss where you’ll be discussing if you’re deserving of that promotion. While you know body language starts with a firm handshake, you'd also do well to remember that it runs a lot deeper than that.

Photo of woman using poor body language in meeting courtesy of Morsa Images/Getty Images.