Presidential Debate Body Language Holds Secrets for Job Hunters

While the presidential debates are supposed to help undecided voters determine who they will vote for in the upcoming election, they can also offer a valuable lesson to job-seekers about the importance of body language. In particular, the debates can be a great help to job-seekers looking to make a positive impression in a job interview.

"Regardless of your political affiliation, the debates are a one-stop shop for observing what body language and speech styles reflect the impression you want to leave with a potential employer," said Melvin Scales, executive coach and Wake Forest University Schools of Business Assistant Director of Student Career Services. "Job candidates should seem confident, not cocky. When it comes to composure, practice makes perfect, regardless of the setting."

Scales estimates that 75 percent of making an impression comes from body language, while conversation is responsible for the other 25 percent. To help job-seekers perfect body language during an interview, Scales has the following advice.


  • Keep your eyes focused on the interviewer without staring. Blink, but don’t wink. 
  • Smile now and then to assure the interviewer that you understand what is being asked, as well as during your responses. This generates confidence. 
  • Don’t look up or from side to side when responding to a question. Averting your gaze makes you seem less certain, trustworthy and truthful.


  • Keep your back straight, head up and with your arms at your side or hands clasped below your waist.
  • Minimize the use of your hands during the interview. They should remain below shoulder level at all times. 
  • When you want to make an emphatic point, lean slightly toward the interviewer without invading his or her space, which is about three feet.

Knees and toes

  • Men should sit with backs straight and feet flat on the floor. Women’s legs should be crossed at the ankles underneath the chair.
  • If part of the interview is conducted while walking and talking or standing, be careful not to shift your weight or rock.

"While job interviews are hardly the confrontational settings we see in debates, they are a good reminder that talking over others is never okay," said Scales, who has more than 35 years of combined executive coaching and brand management experience. "Often the most memorable moments of political debates are of what not to do. When job-seekers see how distracting taking copious notes, gulping down water and laughing off questions can be, they will be less likely to make those mistakes."

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