Interviewing Strategies for the Shy Person

Learning Effective Nonverbal Behavior

Young man nervously sitting on couch
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Interviewing for an internship or a job may create extreme anxiety for a shy person. Even just thinking about what to say at the interview can be stressful. If you can relate to this and wonder how you can present yourself in a positive light, it might be helpful to know that there are many strategies to overcoming shyness that can be helpful during an interview.

Since interviews are largely about effective communication, it's important that you take time to understand and master how you come across to other people before you even have the opportunity to speak. Gaining confidence through these nonverbal communication skills can help you to feel more at ease and more comfortable with the interview process.

First impressions usually are made within the first 60 seconds of any interaction, so your physical appearance, facial expressions, posture, and other nonverbal cues will send a message to your interviewer before the conversation has even begun. The last 60 seconds of any interview also is critical, so focusing on how you carry yourself for those two minutes can go a long way toward increasing your chances of being selected for the internship or the job.

A Good Start

By exhibiting positive nonverbal cues right off the bat, you are likely to encourage similar behavior in your interviewer. This means she is likely to be more welcoming with a genuine interest in learning more about you. When you put your interviewer at ease in this way, you make it easier for yourself to be comfortable in the situation. There are several things you can do to make that positive first impression.

  1. Dress for success. Before your interview, research the company environment to decide on the appropriate dress. Standard practice is to dress one step above what is common for the workplace where you are applying, and this might be especially important if you are shy. How people feel and act sometimes can be impacted by how they dress, so dressing up might help instill you with a bit more confidence in your interactions with others. In addition to dress and grooming, attention to detail is important as well. This includes well-manicured fingernails, brushed hair, polished shoes, and minimal jewelry and perfume. Any type of body art or tattoos also should be downplayed or concealed as much as possible. It's perfectly OK to inquire when scheduling the interview about what kind of dress is generally expected of employees.
  2. Make direct eye contact. It's not uncommon for people who are shy to look down or to otherwise look away from or past others. This can give the interviewer the impression that you are aloof, disinterested, or lacking in the confidence to stand by your convictions. Before your interview practice looking people in the eye. Start with friends and family members you trust, then move on to daily interactions with others, such as store clerks or others you may encounter. This one thing can go a long way toward exuding confidence and giving more credibility to what you have to say.
  3. Sit up and lean in. Good posture throughout the interview shows confidence in yourself and interest in what others have to say. Like direct eye contact, good posture is mainly about awareness and understanding its importance. Leaning forward slightly also shows the interviewer that you are engaged in the conversation and interested in learning more about the position and the company. This is another part of nonverbal communication that can be improved with practice. Sometimes, being shy leads to poor posture because your instinct might be to withdraw and "hide" yourself behind crossed arms or to pull away by leaning back in your chair. Work to break these habits with the help of others who can remind you when you are doing them.
  4. Smile. One of the best things you can do during an interview is to give the impression that you are happy to be there. An easy way to do that is to smile. It shows a sense of confidence and also shows the employer that you really want the job. A good sense of humor can also be very appealing, but it’s important to take the interviewer’s lead and avoid telling any jokes.
  5. Be aware of your hands. Small hand gestures and movement of the body are things to consider when interviewing for a job. Some people tend to be more expressive than others, but the key here is to use adequate hand gestures and body movements that will not overwhelm the interviewer.

A Good Closing

Just as a good first impression can set a positive tone for the interview, a good finish to the interview can leave a positive lasting impression with the interviewer. A good way to do this is to make an effort to put everything together at the interview's conclusion. When telling the interviewer that you definitely are interested and look forward to the next step in the process, be sure to make eye contact while smiling and leaning in for a firm handshake. Like everything else, this can be practiced. The more you become comfortable with it, the more it can become second nature.