The marketplace is more competitive than ever. As the economy continues to struggle, you know competition for jobs continues to be tight. Hitting a job interview out of the park takes a combination of things — a great resume, strong answers to questions and the right look. Sure, a good suit, smile with eye contact, firm handshake and a haircut help. But often overlooked is what your body language is saying and is it matching what your mouth is saying?

It is true we only have a few seconds to making that lasting first impression. Yet, beyond that first impression we are continuing to tell others through body language how we will think, feel and act on the job. It’s your ability to quickly build rapport and influence others that will set you apart.

Look, I hear this all the time, “I’ve been saying all the right things, but I still can’t get ahead”. Have you considered what you’ve been saying nonverbally? While you might be saying, “I’m the person for the job,” the message you’re conveying through your body might be very different. Recently, I met someone who wanted coaching and said how “beaten down” they were feeling. One look confirmed it—shoulders slumped forward, head and eyes cast down accented with a frown and a slow shuffle. Too often, people forget the intangibles like tone, posture and even breathing. Body language really does speak louder than words. (It’s contagious too!)

We all respond to behavioral stimuli either consciously or unconsciously—consider what you do when you see an extended hand upon meeting someone—you reach out to shake it with little forethought. You have been conditioned. Learn to take advantage of that conditioning to communicate confidence, passion, and credibility—factors that will help you soar above your competition.
There are so many ways to nonverbally build rapport and trust quickly, yet here are three quick to implement nonverbal dos and don’ts:

Do know where to put those darn hands.  Don’t use the dreaded fig-leaf pose, or hide them behind your back or put them in your pockets. By placing your hands to cover the groin region, or behind your back you’re making yourself look visually smaller. Both poses say, “‘I’m harmless,’ or, ‘I’m afraid.’”

Pockets can convey multiple meanings de-pending on where the hands (or thumbs) are placed.  Everything from “Geez, I hope you like me” to, “Geez, I’m so bored,” not messages that convey “I’m the person you need.” The best way to break yourself of this habit is to practice being comfortable with your hands straight down by your sides—after all, it is the natural place for them to be or in your lap when sitting. Do not rest your elbows on the desk or table.

Don’t fill the air with um, ah, uh, and you know. Master the silent pause. The silent pause expresses to others your confidence and credibility. Verbal pauses are distracting, because the audience sees you searching for the next words. It is natural to pause when you speak—it gives you a chance to breathe. What’s not natural is to fill the silent pause with um, ah, uh, you know, and other sounds. Your message will be more effective once you eliminate them. The ums, ahs, uhs, and you knows are warning signs that you need to breathe. When you run out of oxygen and your brain starts feeding unintelligible words to your mouth, stop talking and start breathing.

Do stop fidgeting. Unintentional gestures or fidgets are emotional reactions or the result of the body’s desire for physical comfort. Even though fidgets can calm us, those pesky movements or anxious behaviors often make others uneasy. Because they may be habits, they can be difficult to stop. The quickest way to calm yourself without a fidget or two is learning to control your breathing. If you know you will be entering a ‘fidget’ situation, stop and take two or three deep breaths, continue to breathe with low, full abdominal breaths. The purpose is to bring the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels back in balance giving you the double bonus of no fidgets and clear thinking.

Remember, first impressions are lasting impressions. Learning to maintain low, natural breathing not only clears your head and calms you down, it actually makes you look more intelligent—and it’s those first impressions that count. You appear comfortable, confident and poised even if the butterflies have taken over your insides.

True communication goes beyond words, and great communicators use every tool they have to deliver their message. When it comes to confidence and credibility, we can say all the right words, but if our nonverbals send a different message that is what others will believe.

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About the Author:
Sharon Sayler, MBA, is author of What Your Body Says (and how to master the message): Inspire, Influence, Build Trust, and Create Lasting Business Relationships (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-59916-7, $22.95). As a certified group dynamics and behavioral coach Sharon trains, counsels, and coaches professionals on how to become stronger, more influential communicators and leaders. She teaches people how to communicate with confidence and clarity with simple yet powerful, easy-to-learn ways they can gain the strategic advantage in important situations such as job interviews, negotiations, team meetings – anywhere the outcome is critical. Sharon is the official business coach guide for and is host of BlogTalkRadio’s Beyond Lip Service.