Written by Gemma Paech, Ph.D.
Recently, I experienced the interview process from the other side of the table.
I was an interviewee turned interviewer.
It was fascinating to be on the other side of the table, to see how candidates presented themselves and answered questions.
It was obvious which candidates had prepared for the interview and those who hadn’t.
While some candidates answered questions concisely and confidently, others never seemed to get to the point, or acted unsure of themselves.
And there was one candidate who was fidgeting throughout the whole interview.
She kept flicking her hair and swivelling in the chair.
It was so distracting.
All I could think about was how much I wished she would stop flicking her hair.
I couldn’t even remember her name.
I only remembered her as the girl who was flicking her hair.
Although I knew I shouldn’t judge her based on this alone, my opinion of this candidate was largely influenced by her body language.
This experience made me reevaluate my own body language and consider how other people perceive me.
I have been told on more than one occasion that I look angry or annoyed when I am expressionless, and that when I am talking to someone, I tend to have poor eye contact.
My reaction (of total annoyance) to the interviewee’s poor body language made me realize I needed to improve my own body language.
I needed to improve, not only to make a good impression in an interview, but to create a positive, long-lasting impression on the people I meet everyday.
While it hasn’t always been easy to change some of these habits, I am making progress.
Your Body Language Matters Much More Than You Realize
Networking and in-person interactions are critical to obtaining an industry position.
Many PhDs realize the importance of preparing what they are going to say in networking and interview situations, but they forget to focus on what their body language is conveying.
Poor body language sets up PhDs for failure.
Research by Albert Mehrabian, as reported in The Guardian, found that nonverbal cues are most important in determining how much people will like you.
The actual words you say account for 7% of your likability.
Meanwhile, 55% of your credibility is determined by body language.
The most important factor in determining your credibility is your often unconscious and subtle body positioning and movement.
This includes things such as your visual appearance, facial expressions, and hand gestures.
In other words, what your body says will be more influential than what you say in determining how a connection or potential employer will judge you.
Not only does body language affect how others perceive you, but it also affects how much confidence you have in yourself.
A report by Forbes demonstrated that people who have good posture and sit up straight are more confident.
People who adopt an open and expansive posture think and act in a more powerful way.
The right body language can make you appear more credible and give you more confidence in yourself.
5 Ways Your Body Language Is Ruining Your Job Search
Poor body language will damage your reputation and ruin your job prospects.
Unless you take the steps to improve the message your body language is conveying, you will struggle to get an industry position.
It will take practice to change long-standing habits, but it is possible to improve how people perceive you based on body language.
Part of the battle is knowing what areas you need to improve on.
Here are 5 common body language mistakes that are killing your job search…
1. You don’t smile.
Smiling when meeting people is essential.
Smiling shows that you are happy about the opportunity to meet the person, or to be interviewing for a position.
Smiling also demonstrates that you are friendly and approachable.
With many companies focusing on how potential candidates will fit into the current work dynamic, you need to be able to demonstrate that you will get along well with people.
For some people, a warm smile comes naturally.
For other people, smiling can be an effort.
Practice smiling in front of a mirror to make sure that your smile looks natural and happy, and not forced or awkward.
You may also need to remind yourself throughout the day to smile.
Even a simple closed mouth smile can indicate that you are interested in what another person is saying.
But, make sure that you are not smiling all the time.
While you may think this shows that you are happy and friendly, if the situation or topic is serious, smiling may not be appropriate.
With a little practice, you can perfect an on-cue natural smile, which will help demonstrate that you are a friendly and approachable person.
2. You avoid making eye contact.
Your level of eye contact conveys your level of confidence.
If you look down at the floor, rather than at the person you are talking to, this creates an impression of insecurity.
If you look around, instead of at the person you are talking to, this displays a lack of interest.
Avoiding eye contact may also lead the other person to think that you are being deceptive.
On the other hand, good eye contact can give the impression that you are not easily intimidated.
In some instances, you may find it difficult to maintain eye contact.
You might be shy or feel nervous, but you need to put this aside.
To be able to transition into industry, you need to have good eye contact.
Be careful to not stare awkwardly at someone, though.
You should attempt to mirror the level of eye contact that the person you are speaking with has with you.
This may sound complicated, but this mirroring technique is the best way to make the other person feel comfortable and ultimately to make them find you likeable.
Like a smile, eye contact should be natural and not forced.
Practice by looking in a mirror.
When talking with friends or coworkers, pay attention to how much you look at them in the eye and how often you look away.
This will tell you if and how much you need to improve on your eye contact.
3. You have a floppy handshake.
You should almost always shake the hand of someone when you meet them.
However, in some cultures, handshaking is not the common greeting.
Therefore, it is important to be aware of cultural differences and expectations when meeting new people.
Where a handshake is appropriate, your handshake should be firm and not like a ‘limp fish’.
Be sure to not be too firm, either — you are not trying to crush the other person’s hand.
A firm handshake shows that you have good manners and that you are confident.
Before you shake someone’s hand, make sure your palms are not sweaty or greasy.
Under stressful situations, such as industry interviews, it is the body’s natural process to sweat.
Use a napkin or tissue to dry up any excess moisture.
If you have time before the interview, you can always ask for a glass of cold water to help lower your body temperature.
A firm handshake, accompanied by a genuine smile and eye contact, will display that you are confident and give the impression that you are capable of doing the job.
4. You fidget with your hands.
During an interview, or while networking in person, make sure you have full, conscious control over your hands.
Do not touch your face, neck, mouth, ears, or hair.
These movements give the impression that you are insecure and nervous.
You want to look and act confident at all times.
Natural hand gestures that occur while speaking are good to show that you are calm and confident.
However, over-the-top gestures and movements will have the opposite effect.
You may choose to use some small hand gestures to accentuate what you are saying, but try to avoid waving your hands and arms around excessively.
If you feel uncomfortable, and are not sure what to do with your hands, you can take notes to keep your hands occupied.
However, if you do take notes, make sure you don’t just stare at your notepad or book the whole time.
Remember your eye contact.
Another way to prevent yourself from fidgeting is to fold your hands in your lap beneath the table.
You can also place one arm on the arm of the chair (if there is one), or on the table.
However, avoid folding your arms across your chest, as this is a sign of hostility.
Your goal is to cultivate an open, calm, and confident body language.
You want your body language to reflect your value as a PhD.
Any kind of fidgeting will give the impression that you are distracted easily and have difficulty concentrating.
It can be hard to avoid this, especially when you are nervous, so as with everything else, try to practice around friends or family.
5. You slouch.
Last, but not least, you need to be fully aware of your posture.
Sit up straight with shoulders relaxed, down, and pulled back, so that your chest protrudes slightly.
After years of working at a bench, or sitting and writing at a desk, PhDs often have poor posture.
When you slouch, you give the impression that you lack confidence in yourself and your abilities.
But, as a PhD, you are highly skilled and have many advantages over other job candidates.
Do not let your body language suggest otherwise.
While you should sit up straight, try not to look too stiff.
Move, from time to time, to keep your posture natural.
An upright posture will give the impression that you are attentive and interested.
While preparing your elevator pitch and crafting responses to difficult interview questions is important, the body language you display while you interact in interviews and networking situations is even more important. A sure way to sabotage your job search is to not smile when you meet new people, avoid eye contact, have a weak handshake, fidget, and slouch. Each of these adds up to poor body language and sends the message that you are not qualified and lack confidence. Changing poor body language habits can be difficult but, with practice, you can master your body language and get the industry job you deserve.
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Latest posts by Gemma Paech, Ph.D. (see all)
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