Body language is a fundamental part of communication, aiding, emphasising or contrasting verbal comments, thus playing a major part in deciphering what is being said. It has been defined on The Free Dictionary as: “The gestures, postures, and facial expressions by which a person manifests various physical, mental, or emotional states and communicates nonverbally with others”. James Borg, writer of Body Language: 7 Easy Lessons to Master the Silent Language, argues that human communication consists of 93% of body language which leaves just 7% of communication consisting of words. There have been a huge amount of studies on body language as well as numerous articles that offer tips on how to use body language to make yourself seem more successful, such as in an interview or a business meeting. All of their suggestions are helpful, “talk with your hands”, “don’t use gestures above your shoulders”, “keep your arms open” and “maintain direct eye contact”. They are helpful but, for me, they are completely useless. My time in Italy is drawing to a close and I have been searching the internet for jobs to come back to when I return to England. Since it has been impossible for me to meet potential employers face to face I have had no choice but to fill in online application forms, send out online resumes and have online interviews – screen to screen. Despite my overly optimistic searches for online body language tips, or “screen language” (a neologism I created for online body language), I can assure you that there is nothing out there to offer a suitable alternative. What I mean by screen language are the gestures, postures, and expressions used online to manifests various physical, mental, or emotional states with others.
Nowadays you can apply for jobs online, have interviews online and, in some cases, communicate online right up until your very first day of the job. However, during many of my previous job applications an important part of the process was meeting with the employer directly, talking about the job, personally handing in my application and then having a face to face interview. I could get a sense of my employer, who they were, what kind of attitude they gave off, and they could do the same for me. We now have sites, such as LinkedIn, that allow you to create a profile for yourself and then find and apply for jobs without ever having to leave the house. Additionally, employers can find suitable candidates and offer them jobs or interviews. With sites like LinkedIn employers are able to search for candidates with the right skills, experience and interests. But how are we able to get an impression of the employer/ employee without the aid of body language? What is the body language alternative in an increasingly digitalised world?
It is often difficult to decipher what somebody means without body language or even voice tone to offer clues. A sarcastic comment online could be misinterpreted as a compliment, a compliment misinterpreted as an insult, and so on. However, online language is filled with acronyms and emoticons and I truly believe that this online language replaces body language and thus becomes a sort of screen language. You can change the entire meaning of your message with a simple smiley face or an acronym like “SMH” (translated as shaking my head) and, just like body language, we can begin to decipher what is being said. Interestingly there is also use of words, which would replicate body language, written inside asterisks such as *rolling my eyes*. As I have tried to show in the picture below you can take one simple phrase and completely alter the meaning through the use of emoticons, asterisked words and acronyms. Screen language gives off a friendly and casual approach to communication, an approach unsuitable for job applications. I have found it increasingly difficult to convey, in a nonverbal way, my expressions and attitudes in online job applications without using body language. How can I put my personality across on an application and show them how much I want this job? Is that even what employers are looking for anymore?
We have shifted away from the “walk into a shop and hand in your application form to the manager” era and now it just doesn’t feel like a practical way to apply for jobs. I can reach a larger mass of employers through online applications and they can reach me. Let’s face it, if wasn’t for online job applications I’d be paying hundreds on flights back to England every week. Although times have changed this also means that the way we present ourselves has changed. It is difficult to use a screen language in online job applications because it is important to try and present yourself as professional and by adding a “lol” or an emoticon you would definitely not display that. I feel that the only way you can try to demonstrate you personality is by answering the questions or requirements they provide with references to your personality and experience, which doesn’t feel like much so maybe that is why sites like LinkedIn are becoming increasingly popular. By creating a profile for yourself you allow employers to see what type of a person you are. They can observe the types of groups you are in and what you comment on/about. Like I said in an earlier post, social media gives us a platform to advertise and market ourselves whilst displaying our best qualities. As a result, we can give off the professional personality we try to convey during face to face meetings with employers. Our profile picture would be a carefully chosen professional image, in a suit or at graduation for example, that gives off a good impression. We have the time to carefully think about what it is we want to say and draft out messages before we post them.
It is easy to present yourself in a different way when hiding behind the screen but not so easy to do this face to face. That is why I believe that, even though we are shifting into a digital world, body language is still an essential part of communicating. When looking for jobs or candidates social media should play a role in selection, it helps find a larger range of people. But it definitely shouldn’t be relied on. Especially when it is so easy to misinterpret what is being said.