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The 7-38-55 Rule Can Make or Break Your Next Job Interview

Source: @anna-nekrashevich | Pexels
Source: @anna-nekrashevich | Pexels

You’ve landed the job interview of all job interviews, so you’re not leaving any stone unturned to prepare for it: research the company like it’s (already) your job, carry out a mock interview with a friend or family member, pick out an outfit that’s in line with the company’s dress code, and come up with thoughtful questions to ask the interviewer. But ticking all those boxes and having the right qualifications may not be enough to get your dream position in today’s competitive job market. What could set you apart, however, is crushing the actual interview. Enter: The 7-38-55 rule, AKA what could make or break your interview and chances of getting an offer. Ahead, we break down what the 7-38-55 is. Whether your interview is virtual or in person, you’ll know exactly how to use it to your advantage.


Jessica Chang-Irish

Speaking Confidence Coach

Jessica Chang-Irish is an Emmy-award winning news reporter turned public speaking coach who empowers women looking to build their influence and impact through in-person or on-camera speaking. By combining her experience on camera and in marketing, she helps women who feel nervous about public speaking by equipping them with proven strategies and frameworks to boost their speaking skills and confidence.

What is the 7-38-55 rule?

First introduced by psychologist Albert Mehrabian in 1967, the 7-38-55 rule determines the weight listeners place on spoken words, vocal tone, and body language. It states that 7 percent of communication is conveyed by words, 38 percent by tone of voice, and 55 percent by posture and facial expressions (AKA body language). During an interview, you’re likely focused on giving the “right” responses to the interviewer’s questions. But here’s the thing: How you communicate them and how they’re perceived by the interviewer can leave a greater impression.

“The words you say matter, but how you deliver those words is just as important,” shared Jessica Chang-Irish, a speaking confidence coach. “Make sure the words that you’re saying match your tone, pacing, and gestures. For example, if you were to say, ‘I’m really excited about this opportunity’ with a straight face, a monotone voice, and hands clasped tightly on your lap, is that going to demonstrate what you’re saying? No. However, if you say it with a genuine smile, an upbeat tone, and your hands open and palms up, you’ll truly convey the words.” In other words, quality verbal content expressed in an enthusiastic, confident tone with equally impactful non-verbal cues will get you a lot further. If your tone of voice and body language contradict your words, people are more likely to believe your tone and body language rather than your words.

The words you say matter, but how you deliver those words is just as important.

How to use the 7-38-55 to nail your next job interview

So, just how do you apply the 7-38-55 to your next interview to ensure you ace it? For your communication to be effective, it comes down to mastering your intonations and non-verbal behavior. When preparing for and during your job interview, be cognizant of the following tips. They will ensure you’re delivering your message with the right intentions.

Make and maintain eye contact

The eyes themselves are a form of communication in face-to-face interactions. Be it in person or virtual, they can affect the connection between the speaker and listener. Eye contact is one of the critical components of non-verbal behavior and it carries several nuances: The presence or lack of eye contact can communicate dominance, submission, honesty, interest, passion, respect, or even hostility.

Your inclination may be to look away when thinking of your response or out of nervousness, but keeping eye contact demonstrates you’re engaged in the conversation. Plus, it shows your honesty, sincerity, and confidence. Hot tip: If your interview is virtual, make eye contact with the interviewer by looking at the camera lens on your computer, not at their face on the screen.

Use appropriate tone, pacing, and gestures

Again, your tone and body language speak louder than your words. LinkedIn suggests varying your voice tone to emphasize key points, express emotions, and create interest. Are you excited about a certain aspect of the role? Make sure to communicate that with an enthusiastic tone! Similarly, use gestures fitting for the situation, such as smiling, nodding, or showing your palms. These can show the audience that you’re engaged and excited. Avoid gestures like fidgeting, crossing your arms, or touching your face. These can come off as distracting, defensive, or aggressive. What’s more, err on the side of speaking more slowly and employ the power of the pause. “Not only does it prevent the ‘ums,’ but it also gives you extra time to think out what you’re going to say next and helps the audience or listener stay engaged,” Irish said.

Exude confidence

“Sit up straight” may bring flashbacks from your childhood, but that advice still holds up today, especially in the case of interviews. Whether you portray confidence, attentiveness, and interest, or boredom, nervousness, or defensiveness, depends on your posture. To communicate confidence, sit up straight, lean slightly forward, and relax your shoulders. Now is not the time to lean back in your chair and chill.

Before walking into an interview, Irish recommends practicing so-called “power poses” to boost your confidence. In the car or somewhere you can stand (i.e., the bathroom), strike your most confident stance. Can’t think of one? Try the Wonder Woman pose: hands on your hips, chest out, head and chin up high. Hold the pose of your choosing to feel your power. “At the same time, give yourself positive reinforcement, like ‘I’ve got this’ or ‘I’m confident in my abilities,'” Irish said. It may sound (and feel) a little silly, but by physically exuding confidence, you’ll also be able to harness it mentally before walking into your interview (or clicking “Join Meeting” on your laptop).