The “7-38-55” Rule Is the Secret to Nailing Your Next Job Interview

published Mar 21, 2024
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Imagine you’re prepping for a job interview. You’ve practiced your elevator pitch until you can say it backward. You have insightful answers to potential interview questions at the ready. You’ve researched the company and have some questions of your own for the recruiter. If this sounds like you before an interview, congrats on being well-prepared. But even with a stellar skillset, it might not be enough to get the job.

Digital creator Erin McGoff regularly posts career advice on Instagram, and recently she brought up the 7-38-55 rule based on psychologist Dr. Albert Merhabian’s research. And it turns out, this rule may be why your interview goes well (or why it doesn’t). 

What the 7-38-55 Rule Means for Your Job Interview 

If you haven’t heard of the 7-38-55 rule, here’s the gist: Only 7% of communication is expressed by spoken words, while 38% is done by tone of voice, and 55% by posture and facial expressions (aka body language). And according to McGoff’s Instagram post, focusing on saying the exact right thing in an interview may be getting in the way of the other 93% of your communication, leaving you accidentally coming off as stilted, distracted, or unenthusiastic.

Before you think your hiring manager isn’t actually listening to what you’re saying, though, Vicki Salemi, career expert at Monster, offers a helpful caveat. “What you say is the substance of the interview,” Salemi says, noting that skills and experience are still of utmost importance in determining whether someone is the right fit for the role.

That said, she adds that tone of voice and body language do help support verbal communication. And yes, she says, if she were interviewing two final candidates with very similar skills and experiences, she would hire the one who conveyed more interest and enthusiasm in the opportunity.

Once you’ve brushed up on all the bullet points about why you’re the best person for the role, though, it’s wise to keep the 7-38-55 rule top of mind so you can make sure you’re communicating your interest and experience in your intonation and body language, too. 

How to Leverage the 7-38-55 Rule for Your Virtual Interview

With work-from-home policies and remote jobs becoming increasingly common, Zoom interviews are also often the norm. And even if you end up having an in-person conversation for a later round, the first interview or two may likely be a video call. Voice tone and non-verbal communication like posture and eye contact can be a bit more difficult to master for a virtual interview, but not impossible. Salemi offers the following tips for having a successful at-home interview.

You can make eye contact online.

It’s tempting to look at the person’s face on your screen, but what you really should be looking at is the camera lens. Even though it doesn’t feel like it, you are making eye contact if you simply fixate on that little circle. “Have a big Post-it note with an arrow,” Salemi suggests as a reminder of where to focus. 

Adopt a posture that feels strong yet natural.

Some career experts tout the practice of “power poses” to get you pumped before an interview or a presentation (think: posing like Wonder Woman with your hands on your hips). That’s not Salemi’s style (she actually prefers listening to music), but she does recommend sitting or standing during the interview in a way that feels natural, yet grounded — literally. Sit up straight, put your feet firmly on the ground, and lean in. “[You should] feel like ‘I’m in control, I’m in charge here,’” she says. “And try not to slouch.” 

Embrace the awkward silence.

Not the kind that ensues when you forget to unmute, but the kind when you’re thinking of the next words to say. Rather than fill the space with ums and ahs, stop talking until you’re ready. “Oftentimes that pause of silence feels much longer than it is,” she says. “It can be one second and it feels like an entire minute when in reality, we know it’s not.” You can even pause and ask for a moment to collect your thoughts if you’ve been asked a challenging question that caught you off guard. More often than not, Salemi says the interviewer will encourage you to take your time.

Salemi’s trick for getting rid of fillers is to watch someone on a TV news channel and see how clean and crisp they sound, then practice on your own by recording yourself on your phone. You’ll find the filler words you keep repeating, and then you can get to work removing them.

Finally, Salemi says to make sure to block out all distractions from your phone. “You want to stay focused without any external distractions,” she says. “That can help you with your body language.” And that, in turn, will help your confidence during an interview.