Making a good impression

Body language always trumps words, so be intentional and prepared for
your next job interview.


Two women speaking at a crowded event
Steady eye contact and engaged body language can help you make a good impression while networking or interviewing for a job. Photo by Kevin Dietsch

I was recently speaking at a conference and saw an assistant golf course superintendent I had worked with a few years ago. As I approached him, he immediately turned toward me, shook my hand, looked me right in the eye and started conversing. I don’t remember what he said during our conversation, but I do remember what a great impression he made. Why did I have that reaction? The more I study career success, particularly in an interview setting, the clearer it becomes that effective nonverbal communication is inextricably tied to success in the golf industry.

Sadly, I also have many examples of body language thwarting a candidate. Regularly, applicants convey well-prepared verbal answers and ideas during an interview while transmitting a contrasting message with nonverbal cues. Body language always trumps words, so let’s take a closer look at nonverbal communication to be intentional and prepared for your next job interview.

Over 50 years ago, Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D., published research quantifying the impact of nonverbal communication. He coined the Mehrabian Communication Model and the “7-38-55 rule,” which states that only 7% of communication is spoken words, 38% is voice and tone, and 55% is body language. His research has been parsed and questioned, but most modern research confirms the general premise that indeed body language comprises the major portion of messages we convey.

What is our response to this reality? Instead of preparing for an interview by simply considering the words to speak, let’s also practice how we say it and what the rest of our body will be conveying throughout an interview.

Body language

Be intentional with your posture and facial expressions. Practice walking into a room with good posture and walking cadence, head up and smiling. Don’t underestimate the power of simple cues you are giving the audience about your confidence and outlook. Someday, as you walk into a boardroom to meet with a hiring committee to interview for your dream job, your heart may be pounding with nervousness, but if you are intentional with body language, your outward appearance will remain calm and confident. Upon sitting, avoid fiddling with belongings and sudden movements. Instead, calmly arrange your folder or device for notes. Be intentional with your arms and hands to not distract or convey disinterest such as by crossing your arms.

Eye contact

Yes, we all know about the importance of eye contact — right? But it isn’t that simple. What about an interview with a committee of several people? How much eye contact is appropriate? Most communication experts use the 50/70 rule as a general guideline: Engage eye contact 50% of the time when you are speaking and 70% when you are listening. Increased eye contact conveys credibility and confidence. A candidate who displays less eye contact can be perceived as intimidated and less confident and not having conviction in what they are saying. Establish eye contact before you begin your answers, and end your answers with confident engagement. This allows you some latitude during your responses to naturally look at notes and comfortably focus on the content of your message. In a committee setting, give most of your attention to the person who asked each question, along with intermittent eye contact with the other committee members. As you finish your answers, return your concentration to the questioner, which gives them the cue you are willing to answer any follow-up inquiry or clarification.

Appropriate appearance

First impressions are paramount. Regardless of your credentials and experience, image and attire often override facts and figures in the interview process. Are your clothing, shoes, hair and accessories appropriate and in good order? Does your appearance demonstrate you are a professional in the golf industry and merit trust as part of the leadership team for their facility? If you are unsure of your answer to these questions, seek help so your appearance will substantiate, not hinder, your professionalism.

The next time you prepare for an interview, I encourage you to remember that actions do speak louder than words. Take the time to create a winning message using all of your communication pathways to let yourself shine through and land that job.

Carol D. Rau, PHR, has been a career consultant and speaker with GCSAA since 2005 and specializes in golf and turf industry careers. Rau is a frequent speaker at national, regional and local GCSAA conferences and teaches GCSAA webinars.

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