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I Was Rejected For Fidgeting In Interviews But These 5 Body Language Hacks Changed Everything

Written by: Jeanette McConnell, Ph.D.

In general, I am just a fidgety person.

I constantly wiggle my legs and tap my feet as I work, usually to the beat of some music playing in my head.

This wasn’t a problem until I went to my first post-PhD interview.

At that interview, my nervous body language was a deal-breaker.

Because I was incredibly nervous for the interview, the fidgeting spread, and I found myself cracking my knuckles and touching my hair and face.

I was aware that I was doing these things and that I should stop, but I just kept nervously moving around.

It was awful.

I hadn’t realized that my body language would make me look so nervous and ultimately incompetent.

Betrayed by my fidgeting, I set out to learn how to control my nervousness.

The next time I was in an interview, I wanted the interviewers to pay attention to what I had to say and not be distracted by my body language.

For me, it was tough to quiet my body.

I am excitable and a bit outlandish, but I realized that an interview, like a fancy dinner, requires a particular performance.

An interview is a first impression where you are establishing your credibility.

I knew I had both the technical and transferable skills that were required for the position, but I needed my body language to match this confidence I had in myself.

Based on my first interview, I knew that being the right candidate on paper just isn’t enough.

So, I learned the strategies that I could use to have positive body language that would inspire others to have confidence in me.

I practiced these body language techniques in front of a mirror, and then with friends.

I even video recorded myself answering interview questions so I could see what I looked like, and if my body language was conveying the right message.

Although I was still nervous for my next interview, I knew how to position my body so that I didn’t look overly nervous.

I knew how to use body language to my advantage.

Why Your Body Language Can Make Or Break An Interview

In the book, Gestures: The Do’s and Taboos of Body Language Around the World, author Roger Axtell identifies the incredible diversity and power that body language plays in all aspects of life.

He explains that humans can produce more than 250,000 postures and more than 1,000 facial expressions.

So, you want to make sure you are choosing postures in your interview which convey that you’re the best candidate for the position.

Because, when it comes to your body language, interviewers can be harsh.

If you are slouching, fidgeting, playing with your hair, looking around, or conducting any other inappropriate behavior, you can kiss the job opportunity goodbye.

As reported by Undercover Recruiter, 67% of executives reported rejecting a candidate because they lacked eye contact, and 33% rejected a candidate because they were fidgeting.

A further 21% of executives reported rejecting a candidate because they touched their hair or face during the interview.

Your body language is very important.

If you don’t control your body language, it can ruin your job search.

But, if you take the time to learn how to control and leverage your body language in a positive way, it will give you a major advantage over other candidates.

But, to get to that place, you must learn what proper body language is and then practice implementing it.

5 Unusual But Powerful Body Language Hacks PhDs Can Use To Get Hired

PhDs like data and information.

So naturally, you place a high importance on the things you say in an interview.

But, what you say is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

The nuances of body language are constantly influencing the situations you are in, in ways that you are probably unaware of.

Mastering your body language will give you a huge advantage in your job search and your industry career.

But, you will have to learn and try new techniques.

You will never see a different result if you keep doing the same things — it’s true in the lab and it’s true with your job search.

Here are 5 unusual body language hacks you can use to influence people and get hired…

1. Synchronize your breathing with your interviewer’s breathing.

A subtle way to connect with your interviewer is to emulate the cadence of their breathing.

The rhythm with which your interviewer is breathing is one way that their body is communicating, and if you can breathe in a similar pattern it’s as if you are on the same frequency.

You will be able to connect more easily with another person if your breathing is synchronized.

It’s weird, but it works.

However, this isn’t an easy technique.

And, you aren’t going to be able to learn it overnight.

But, when you are able to detect the breathing pattern of another person and then match your breathing pattern to theirs, you will see an improvement in your interactions with others.

People will feel more connected to you and they will like you more, without really knowing why.

This is important, because if someone likes you they are more likely to hire you.

As a PhD, you probably have the skills and expertise a company is looking for, but a company wants to know if you will be a good fit for the team.

And, if the interviewer likes you, that’s a good indication that you will be a good fit.

So, you need to practice the technique.

You can actually use this technique in all situations where you want to relate to someone better, such as networking and relationship-building.

Learn how to observe and determine the pattern of another person’s breathing and then adjust your breathing to mimic theirs.

The benefits will be tremendous.

2. Place yourself to the left of the person you are talking with.

There is power in where you sit or stand in a room.

Sitting across the table from someone is a combative stance, while sitting on the same side of a table creates a collaborative environment.

And, the side of a person that you are on is important too.

When we interact with people, we give with our right side and receive with our left side, such as when we give our right hand when we shake hands with someone.

This means when you want to influence someone, you should focus on their left side.

Sit to the left of them if you can.

Look at their left eye when you are talking to them.

Now, don’t be creepy and just stare at the other person’s’ left eye the entire interview — but, when you do make natural eye contact, focus on the left side.

This subtle technique will help you build rapport with your interviewer without them really knowing why.

3. Be more symmetrical to be more influential.

Symmetry is aesthetically pleasing and asymmetry is off-putting.

(Just go look at those videos of people cutting cakes and cheeses in unsymmetrical ways to see how disconcerting it is.)

As humans, we like symmetry — that’s just the way it is.

And, this concept of symmetry is also important in body language.

The more symmetrical your posture is, the more you will be viewed as confident and competent.

With a more symmetrical posture, you will be viewed more positively by your interviewer.

If your head is tilted to the side or if you are slouching, you will be asymmetrical and therefore appear as less of an authority.

You may not even realize that the way you are sitting or standing is crooked.

Maybe you place more weight on one leg, or you tend to tilt your head toward one side.

Practice by sitting and standing in front of a mirror to see how symmetrical you look.

A great strategy to maintain symmetry in your posture is to imagine that you have a very heavy cloak on your shoulders.

To keep that cloak balanced on you, you need to keep your shoulders straight, back, and down.

The weight of such a heavy cloak would also mean that you need to keep equal pressure on both feet as you stand, which will make your standing posture symmetrical.

This upright, balanced posture will also open up your lungs, allowing your voice to deepen and convey more confidence.

It’s important to practice this in the mirror because, over time, you will develop habits and comfortable ways of moving that may not be presenting you in the best way.

4. Release nervousness with a postural change.

When thinking about body language, you tend to think about reading another person’s body language or understanding what your body language is saying to other people.

But, there is another component — what your body language is doing to you.

The way you stand or sit influences your thoughts and emotions, and you can use this to your advantage.

Before a big interview, or even a networking event, you can hack your own body language to decrease your nervousness.

It’s a pretty simple strategy.

Stand still with both feet on the floor, look down at the space between your feet, and think about the thing you are nervous about.

Allow yourself to envision and feel the worst case scenario.

Do this for 30 seconds to 3 minutes — that is, however long it takes you to really get into that nervous feeling.

Then, you are going to dramatically change your body language to change your state of mind.

Instead of looking down at the floor, tilt your head upward.

This changes the positioning of your spine and releases different chemicals into your body.

The posture change releases hormones that will calm you down and make you feel more confident going into your next interview.

5. Create confidence by placing both feet flat on the floor.

Whether you are on a phone interview, video interview, or in-person interview, your body language is very important.

Yes, even for a phone interview, your body language matters.

Because, your body positioning does more than just influence how other people view you — it informs your brain about how you are feeling.

So, whether your interviewer can see you or not, you should sit with both feet flat on the floor and not move them around.

This creates a stable environment for your body.

Fidgeting around with your feet makes you look nervous and it will also make you feel nervous.

You want to create a stable base for you body so that you can project stability and confidence with your body language.

Creating that upright, symmetrical posture you need for an interview all starts with your feet.

Even if you are a naturally fidgety person (like me), practice your body language the same way that you practice how you will answer interview questions.

There is a certain behavior that you need to have during interviews and networking events, and the only way to become comfortable and good at these situations is to practice.

Your body language is powerful. Not understanding this power will harm your job search, but recognizing and using the power of your body language will give you a huge advantage in your job search. There are many tips and tricks for having good body language, but a few unusual body language hacks that can transform your job search include synchronizing your breathing with your interviewer’s breathing, placing yourself to the left of your interviewer, being more symmetrical to be more influential, releasing nervousness with a postural change, and creating confidence by placing both feet flat on the floor. Your body language is just as important as what you say during an interview. If you embrace the power of your body language, you will impress your interviewer and get hired.

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Jeanette McConnell, PhD

Jeanette McConnell, PhD

Jeanette is a chemistry PhD turned science communication enthusiast. During her PhD she realized that her favorite part about research wasn’t actually doing research, but rather talking and writing about it. So, she has channeled her passion for discovery into teaching and writing about science. When she isn’t talking someone’s ear off about her latest scientific obsession, you’ll find her on the soccer field or reading a good sci-fi novel.
Jeanette McConnell, PhD