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The Power of Body Language in PhD Interviews

Ann Sylvia
Body Language for PhD Interviews

Over the past twenty years, research on body language, whether it be in the workplace or during interviews, has become increasingly popular. Where it was once glanced over, it’s now well accepted that non-verbal communication places a crucial role in any interaction, whether it’s for setting good first impressions or coming across well in PhD interviews.

Body language not only shows people how you feel, but it can also influence the outcome in a positive (or negative) way. It shows people what you don’t want them to hear – whether it be that you feel confident you’re the right person for PhD or if you feel like an imposter that lacks the skills and experience.

All that from a subtle fidget here and a scratch of the chin there I hear you say?

The Power of Body Language

Let’s first agree that body language has a far greater influence than your verbal communication. There’s countless research which shows people are more inclined to remember the facial expressions you made while you said something, than what it was you actually said. You’ll probably have heard the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” more than you would have liked to, but it’s an accurate phrase to summarise the value of great body language. Appreciating the role your physical presence plays in communication isn’t only imperative for ensuring a successful interview, but it’s also a trait that will help you excel as a researcher or lecturer should you wish to go down that route.

Below are 5 techniques to help you display confident body language to ace your next PhD entrance interview.

1. Posture

During your interview, ensure you’re always sitting up straight and not ‘slumping’ in your chair. The same applies for when you’re standing up while waiting to be collected by your interviewer – remember, first impressions count! During your interview, make a conscious effort to keep your head upright and your shoulders back. A poor posture will give the impression that you’re uninterested or unimpressed by what the interviewing supervisor has to say.

2. Make Eye Contact

Maintaining active eye contact will show you genuinely believe in what you’re saying. It displays that you’re a confident individual and that you trust in your capabilities. Constantly breaking eye contact while speaking won’t only distract the supervisor interviewing you, but it will appear that you feel unworthy of the PhD position up for grabs. However, it also goes without saying that to make eye contact appear natural, you’ll need to break it occasionally to not come across as too intense.

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3. Arm Placement

We’ve all heard that keeping your arms crossed is an unconscious display of feeling vulnerable. While there is some truth to this, it’s much more important that you feel comfortable throughout your PhD interview than trying to look calm and collected while secretly fighting yourself inside. If you feel more comfortable keeping your arms crossed, than by all means you should do so, but be mindful of how you’re doing it. You will want to keep your arms loose to encourage hand gestures, so keeping your arms in a relaxed state, ideally with your palms open, will make this more natural and therefore easier to facilitate. Keeping your palms open will also come across as inviting and help show that you’re trustworthy by showing you have nothing to hide.

4. Body Position

Your body position will play a vital role in showing how interested you are in the doctorate position. If you angle your body away from the interviewing supervisor, this would suggest you don’t value what they offer, whether it be their insight or the research position they are offering. But angling your body toward them, even ever so slightly, will show you respect what the interviewer has to say. As you and the potential supervisor will need to work together over the next few years, it’s important they can confirm that you’ll be pleasant to work with.

5. Hand Gestures

Using your hands is essential for confident body language. You may have seen the way high-level politicians, such as Jacinda Ardern and Barack Obama, cleverly use hand gestures to reinforce their points. For example, you may have seen them move their hands away from their bodies when trying to demonstrate adequate progress towards a goal, or keep their arms outreach when trying to prove their efforts towards meeting their governments’ objectives. On this note, handshakes are a crucial facet for setting a good first impression. Regardless of whether your supervisor is male or female, old or young, always greet them with a firm handshake and a pleasant smile.

Wrapping Up

Body language can be a powerful and highly influential skill when used correctly. It will show you’re confident, calm and professional, which will leave a positive impression on those fortunate enough to interview you. Remember that for body language to be effective, it needs to be natural, so if you keep calm and be yourself, you’re already halfway there!




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