Just the Job: Hand gestures can be your interview friend

Q: Every time I go to an interview, I am conscious of the fact that I move my hands far too much when speaking. Face to face it doesn’t appear too bad, but in online interviews it looks crazy. I can see myself in the screen gesticulating and waving like a mad thing, going like a windmill, but I just don't know how to stop. Any tips on how I can get those hands back under control? (EF, email).

A: The weakness lies in your question: why would you want to get your hand movements back under control? What’s wrong with them?

You should worry about some things building up to an interview, but not your hand movements. It is clear from what you say that they are part of your communication style, and it would be a waste of time and energy to try to curb them on the day.

I take the very opposite view when it comes to hand movements and anything else that makes up your communications style. Resolving to check them is far too dramatic a change to make in the run-up to an interview.

In fact, I know a candidate is doing well when their hand movements start. It signals the moment when they being to relax – when they finally become ‘themselves’ – in a training session or, indeed, in an interview.

Hand movements come easily to you, and, in all likelihood, they help you to organise your thoughts in a logical fashion.

In sports psychology, the trick is to approach the big game as if it were any other game. Croke Park is just a field with a set of goal posts at either end, just like our humble pitch at home.

The focus is on keeping things normal or as they always were – and, for you, hand movements are part of what's normal. Try to change them at your peril.

So, leave things as they are. Focus instead on evaluating what the employer needs from the successful candidate and what evidence you have to persuade them that you should be that successful candidate.

Indeed, there are studies that show (there are studies that show everything…) that moving your hands helps your audience to understand your points. We've all seen speakers who deploy a wide range of hand movements such as slicers, circlers and ladders (I’ve just made up all of those terms, but that’s now the look to me), and they can create quite a harmonious impression.

Susan Goldin-Meadow, a psychologist at the University of Chicago, says that moving your hands while speaking can decrease “the amount of mental energy you're expending to keep things in your working memory.”

A study analysing TED Talks found that the most popular, viral speakers used an average of approximately 465 hand gestures. This was nearly twice as many as used by the least popular speakers. Other research has found that people who ‘talk’ with their hands tend are viewed as warm, agreeable and energetic, while those who are less animated are seen as logical, cold and analytical.

Of course, make sure that the webcam is far enough away so that you don’t knock it off its perch during the interview. A sprawling webcam, accompanied by a diving you trying to reel it back into place, is not the look you're seeking in an online interview.

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