At CBO Search, we have seen a steady and strong demand for Tax Technologists. While there are regular job vacancies, the market is also competitive. On one of the assignments we worked for a Tax Technology role with a Big Four client, there were over 100 applicants! We therefore believe it is crucial for the candidates to stand out from other applicants.
In the second of three articles on interviewing successfully, CBO Search met again with Alexandra Sleator, Managing Director of Coaching for Inspiration to discuss how best to prepare for interviews. Alexandra has a 23-year track record in the world of finance during which she interviewed dozens of candidates. Now an executive coach, she and I discussed interview success tips. Here, Alexandra shares her views about how to best behave in an interview: she and I discussed the impact of non-verbal communication, i.e. body language.
Why is body language important?
Alexandra Sleator (AS) – Well, quite simply, our body language is the way we speak truthfully. Unless you are a fantastic actor or an accomplished hustler, your body language will betray your true sentiments. If you speak sweet words to someone you in fact dislike, it is the tension in your shoulders and your stiff smile (among other things!) which will tell them that you don’t mean what you say. In short, while it may possible for some of us to easily lie with words, only very few among us can lie with our body as well.
What are the implications for interviews then?
AS – Consider the eyes, Candice. Making eye contact comes across as a mark of honesty so, while you speak and listen to the interviewer, maintain eye contact. But beware, contact does not mean staring: it means looking at the person with a benign gaze, showing genuine interest for what they are asking or sharing, including with the rest of your body, for instance by opining.
In this way, you will create rapport with the interviewer. In case of a panel interview, you will need to move your head slowly – but surely! – to ensure you make eye contact with each of the panel members – forget one and they won’t forget you!
Some of us may find it hard to maintain eye contact as you advocate though.
AS – I appreciate it can be a challenge and like many good habits, it will need to be practiced and cultivated. But when you avoid eye contact with someone, you come across as insincere: consider the implications of coming across as shifty as you share your work achievements… Tragic!
But it’s not just the eyes which can sabotage your image. Imagine talking to someone who is covering their mouth while they speak. Or rubbing their nose. Or fiddling their hair or earrings. Or crossing their arms. All of the above are universal signs of dishonesty which we all pick up on and understand unconsciously. Your interviewer will be listening to your non-verbal communication.
Any other key elements of good non-verbal communication?
AS – Your smile is your most powerful piece of body language. Whereas eye contact and a lot of other gestures will vary across cultures, no such constraint applies to the smile. A genuine smile is a universal sign of warmth that you can send knowing it will be understood and welcome by all.
Let’s think about it together: what goes through your mind when someone smiles at you? How about “I feel comfortable with them“? “They seem like a nice person”? “Our meeting will go well”? “This person is on the same wavelength as me”? A smile elicits all sorts of positive thoughts: it puts you at ease even with a complete stranger and it creates the first thread of trust.
But might smiling prevent candidates from conveying a professional, serious image?
AS – The issue though Candice is that when you don’t smile, you come across as unfriendly. Not smiling will damage your personal image. Work is not about making friends but it is about collaborating and when you don’t smile, you come across as cold, disengaged, aloof – in short, not a team player
The sad news is that there are so many potential body language pitfalls. People can shake hands wrong and ruin that all-important first impression that way too. Or sit the wrong way. Or reveal how anxious they feel. It is also easy to appear desperate, or arrogant.
I am mindful that this gallery of body language pitfalls can be a little scary but there are ways to find out about our behaviour foibles and then to work on bringing them under control.
CB – Many thanks Alexandra for these insights. It’s quite something to consider that so much happens which does not involve the candidate having said a single word and yet can determine the success of the interview!