Career Woman

What to do with your hands in an interview


Body language is a common topic: how to stand, how to sit, how to smile and how to indicate interest through subtle nodding.One topic, however, that is often merely touched upon is what to do with your hands.

Yet, most everyone has been in a situation – an interview or a presentation – that had been a walk in the park until that tiny moment at which self-consciousness joined the conversation. Previously engaged and animated whilst presenting in front of the whole department, all of a sudden it’s not your turn any longer but your co-presenter’s; or, you’re sitting in an interview, listening to the introductory monologue of the hiring HR manager and there it is! The door slowly opens and your self-consciousness peeks in, starting to ask challenging questions like “Am I smiling too much?”;“Am I smiling to little?” or “What am I meant to be doing with my hands?”

Ah, your hands! Previously crossed right in front of you, you remember that “body language experts” call this a barrier and that body barriers are a ‘no-no’ – so now what? Do you put them behind your back or in your pockets or let them dangleright beside you? Feeling like you’ve just grown some extra limbs you start becoming more and moreself-aware, which – of course – only exacerbates the situation.

Not knowing what to do with your hands in presentations or interviews is quite common. The problem is that once your mind is occupied with finding the best resting – or moving – place for your hands, it doesn’t have time to also focus on the present moment. In other words: you’re focusing on everything but your interview!To ensure that this doesn’t happen, here are some tips:

Be comfortable in being you

First things first: my top recommendation is always to be yourself in an interview – that’s your super power. Interviews can be stressful situations and this is why it is important that you are as comfortable as possible in your own skin. This includes where and how you hold your hands. If you’ve read, for instance, that it is best practice to hold your hands under the table but you are – naturally – someone who likes to gesture above the table while talking, then my recommendation is to remain true to yourself. Here is why.

Over time, I have observed that in a lot of people there is a direct link between how fluently they think and speak and how they gesture. For instance, in many cases candidates who force their hands to remain under the table but – under normal circumstances – would use them to support their verbal responses, sound a bit like an orchestra out of sync: the flutes playing to a different beat than the drums; and the trumpets enthusiastically going into a finalising crescendo, while the harp just gets started. In short, there is a complete “disconnect” between the different parts and the whole piece ends up out of harmony.

Hence, if you perform better, and are more congruent, with your hands above the table (or below) then that’s where they need to be. This allows you keep the flow and rhythm between your hands, heart and head.

Okay, my hands are on the table – now what?

Alright, let’s imagine that this is the case: now what? Just because you’ve decided that on the table (for argument’s sake) is better than below, doesn’t mean you know how to hold them. There are two options that work really well.

The first option is to have one hand gently resting on the other – and that’s it. That’s the whole of the secret. Best of all, from that position it’s easy to purposefully gesture when answering questions.

The second one is to steeple. This simply means to put your hands together at your fingertips so that they form and upward-pointing V-shape, which looks like a steeple. You will see a lot of people using it, sitting or standing. Generally, the notion is that a steeple is a confidence gesture and – truth be told – most people do look quite confident when they’re using it.Given though that some people associate a show of power with it, I would recommend using a steeple only intermittently.

It’s my turn to talk – how do I best gesture?

One of the most common questions people ask is: palms up or down? Whilst the general advice tends to be to keep your palms up since palms down can be perceived as aggressive, I prefer a healthy balance pending on what it is that you’re talking about.

For instance, when discussing my industry and contents knowledge or in cases in which I need to demonstrate my credibility, I tend to keep my palms down.If, on the other hand, I was asked about my ability to collaborate, or in situations in which I want to convey my approachability and relational capacity, I would turn my palms up.

Another common question is: how much gesturing is the right level? This is a difficult question to answer since it will depend on a lot of factors such as the job itself, your interviewer and your natural tendencies. Independent of how much you gesture, I would recommend, however, to keep your gestures confined to a bit wider than shoulder-width and to between the table and your collarbone. Everything outside that area can look frantic and hence unprofessional. I would also refrain from too many chopping and pointing movements since both can be interpreted as a sign of aggression, lecturing and dividing space. Simply ask yourself this: when was the last time you enjoyed someone talking to you whilst pointing their finger at you?

What’s next?

When diving into the world of gesturing, a great resource is Virginia Satir’swork on the five categories: the computer, placater, leveller, blamer and distractor; and I strongly recommend that readers who are interested in more in-depth information research it.

Overall, the best strategy – besides ensuring you’re comfortable within yourself – is to consciously raise your gesturing and body language awareness, i.e. to become aware of how you use your body in conversations and to calibrate how the other person reacts to it. If they seem unfazed, fantastic: keep doing what you’re doing; if they seem to respond in an unanticipated way, then try something new. As with most things in life, flexibility is the key!

About Maike Sundmacher

Maike Sundmacher is a mindset coach, focusing on career: her mission is to help shift as many people as possible from saying "It pays the bills" to "I love what I do" when talking about their career. Maike runs her own business, Core Power Coaching. Prior to that she worked as a career & lifestyle coach, trainer & assessor and university lecturer.Her passions are people, human behaviour, learning and coffee. To get in touch with Maike or find out more about her, visit:

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