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5 Sure Ways To Ruin A Job Search With Poor Body Language

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.

This is true whether you are interviewing for a position or networking.

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.

To learn more about 5 Sure Ways To Ruin A Job Search With Poor Body Language, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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Gemma Paech, Ph.D.

Gemma Paech, Ph.D.

Gemma has a PhD in Social Sciences specializing in sleep and circadian rhythms with a background in genetics and immunology. She is currently transitioning from academia into industry. She has experience in communicating science to lay audiences and believes in sharing scientific knowledge with the public. She is passionate about educating the public about the importance of sleep and the effects of sleep loss and disruption on general health and wellbeing to increase quality of life and work productivity. She is also committed to mentoring students across all demographics, helping them reach their full potential.
Gemma Paech, Ph.D.
  • Julian Holst

    What hit home to me the most was the concept that even though we PhDs have an advantage over other job applicants, our posture and body language can give the impression we don’t. Amazing how some unconscious signals can undo years of work. I’ve never given this any thought before, so I’ll definitely be practicing in the mirror!

    • Cheeky Scientist

      Yes! Many PhDs struggle with issues of confidence when moving beyond academia, especially after grappling with things like imposter syndrome.

  • Kathy Azalea

    I really hate it when I get a floppy handshake – I call it the dead fish effect. I was thinking of buying something but when I shook hands with the salesperson after going through all the options, I realized that the salesperson had no intention of helping me with anything – he was only concerned with commission. When I replayed the whole conversation in my mind, I realized that when I asked a question, I never got an answer. When I expressed a concern, he just blew it off. I was still open to buying, but the handshake was like a shock to the gut. No deal.

    • Cheeky Scientist

      wow! That’s a great instance that exemplifies the points made here. The good, firm handshake is so important to both first and last impressions.

  • Sissy MacDougall

    Definitely, a great checklist of things to watch out for. A lot of people don’t even realize they slouch. I’ve tried to be conscious of this even though I’m rather tall. At times, I would have wanted to crunch down to other people’s level, but in my job it’s so important to be professional and carry oneself in a confident manner. You never know what you’re going to get at work, so you’d better be prepared. Likewise, interviews are your chance to shine and leave a good impression. Slouching just leaves the impression that you either don’t care, or can’t handle, the work.

    • Cheeky Scientist

      Exactly! You want to make the interviewer(s) happy to spend their valuable time with you!

  • Harvey Delano

    I try to keep track of my body language all the time. There’s a fine line between being so over-vigilant about your body language that you come off stiff; and being so loose that you slouch, scratch your nose, and just generally make a fool of yourself. To me, I strive to be authentic but still maintain a certain composure.

    • Cheeky Scientist

      That’s great to hear, Harvey. And this does take practice! So being aware of what your body communicates is a great way to get used to being confident. After awhile, it should come naturally.

  • Carlie Stevenson, PhD

    You know, with all the discussion on networking and how important it is, it’s really about time we discussed body language. You can have the best elevator talk in the world, but if your body language puts people off, conveys lack of self-confidence, or gives the false impression that you’d rather be somewhere else, you’re not going to leave the kind of impression you need to leave if you want to get good connections and positions.

    • Cheeky Scientist

      Fantastic points, Carlie. You’re definitely right about about having great verbal and nonverbal communication–one without the other is not going to get you your dream job!

  • Shawn Lyons, PhD

    I know I tend to be nervous, so my body language is probably giving it away. 🙁

  • Sonja Luther

    This is something we all need to be aware of. It’s also a good idea to get the rest and exercise you need so you’re not falling asleep during the interview. Even if you try to hold it together, they can pick up on your vibe.

    • Cheeky Scientist

      Great points, Sonja!

  • Marvin D’Esprit

    I feel good about my body image and confident, so hopefully I’ll come across that way. Good idea about checking in the mirror.

    • Cheeky Scientist

      Absolutely! Recording yourself and watching it back is also another great strategy.

  • Theo

    Makes a lot of sense.

  • Matthew Smithson PhD

    I think it’s a shame that you have to, but I totally agree that you have to mention smiling. This seems like such a basic! Yet, I’ve seen people so petrified during their interview that they forget to smile. No matter how insecure you may feel (and you shouldn’t, because you’re a PhD for goodness’ sake), interviewers are people too, and they like to be smiled at. It’s a matter of rising above and being able to see the forest even though you’re surrounded by trees. 🙂