Cheeky Logo
Ready To Transition Into Industry?
Apply To Book A Free Call With Our Transition Specialist Team

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

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.

If you’re ready to start your transition into industry, you can apply to book a free Transition Call with our founder Isaiah Hankel, PhD or one of our Transition Specialists. Apply to book a Transition Call here.

Book a Transition Call
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly


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

Similar Articles

5 Tough But Common Interview Questions For Research-Based Jobs

5 Tough But Common Interview Questions For Research-Based Jobs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I can’t get hired because of my technical skills.” “I’m nervous about the technical questions.” This is what many PhDs obsess over before interviewing for a research role.  The problem is that interviewers are rarely going to ask highly specific technical questions, even for research-based roles.  I had a PhD who was up for an interview at Baxter and told me that they appreciated the advice, but because it’s Baxter they know the interview will be mostly technical.  “Like what?” I asked. “Do you think you’re going to have to create a buffer in front of them?” “Are they going…

Adjunct, Postdoc, Or Amazon Warehouse Worker: Where PhDs With No Plan End Up

Adjunct, Postdoc, Or Amazon Warehouse Worker: Where PhDs With No Plan End Up

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

My PhD story is a cautionary tale.  I got my PhD against the backdrop of today’s contracting skilled, or “white-collar” job market.  Armed with my doctorate and an unwavering passion for research and academia, I had set my sights on a future brimming with intellectual pursuits.  Little did I know that the unpredictable twists of fate would lead me down a path I detested—donning the uniform of an Amazon warehouse worker. This is not a slight against those I currently work with. It’s just not what I thought my years and years of PhD-level training would bring me.  Sadly, after…

Scam Job Posts Versus Ghost Job Listings: A Guide For PhDs

Scam Job Posts Versus Ghost Job Listings: A Guide For PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

“I’ve applied to hundreds of job postings.” “Using the same resume?” I asked. “No, I targeted every resume. I’ve heard nothing back. In some cases I was sent a rejection email within the hour. What’s happening?!”“Ghost job listings.” I replied.  “Like fake jobs? Scams? I had a friend who applied to a job online and entered their private info and got hacked after. Like this?” “No, though that happens. Ghost job listings are from real companies but these companies have no intention of actually filling these jobs anytime soon …or at all.” “Why would they do this? What’s the point?”…

How To Get Hired In 3 Months Or Less When You Have A PhD (5 Action Steps)

How To Get Hired In 3 Months Or Less When You Have A PhD (5 Action Steps)

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I had a client named Sarah years ago who needed to get hired in less than 60 days.  She was very concerned, and rightly so, that this wasn’t possible. She had her own reasons why she had to get hired so quickly, as everyone does. There were family obligations she had to pay off. She had been unemployed for a few months at this point. And she was about to lose her visa. This was an urgent, uncomfortable situation to say the least.  When I first talked to Sarah, she was frantic. She couldn’t keep a thought in her head…

How PhDs Can Find The Best Fit Company To Work For

How PhDs Can Find The Best Fit Company To Work For

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

When I started my job search, I was obsessed with finding the right job title. I wanted to make sure that I got into a job that was a good fit for me. So I scoured the internet for jobs that sounded interesting. By that I mean I would read a job posting, play out scenarios in my head of working in the role, and then based on what I imagined, would apply to the job, or not.  This was a disastrous strategy.  First, job titles are so variable and numerous that I was lost in a sea of phrases…

10 Gotcha Interview Questions That Derail PhDs

10 Gotcha Interview Questions That Derail PhDs

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

There are hundreds of interview questions I’ve heard in the last 10 years. Thousands, actually. PhDs report back to me from the business end of their industry interviews a dozen, two dozen times a day. They ask for coaching on standard questions that you’ve probably been asked yourself in industry interviews: “Tell me what makes you the best fit for this job?”  “Where do you see yourself in five years?”  “What’s your biggest weakness?” I’ve also met with PhDs post-interview who tell me they were stumped by some really off-the-wall questions. Head-scratchers like: “How would your greatest enemy describe you?”…

15 Questions To Ask Employers To Show You're Industry-Ready

15 Questions To Ask Employers To Show You're Industry-Ready

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I know many PhDs who moved from one lab to another or one adjunct ship to another and never really had to interview. Because academia is such an isolated environment most PhDs already know most of what they need to know about the culture, pay, and what’s expected of them. This familiarity gets them in the habit of not asking questions during industry interviews and blowing it spectacularly.  I kept bombing my early industry interviews and I couldn’t figure out why – I knew I was the most qualified candidate they’d interviewed. Many of the interviewers told me so. I…

Interview Follow-Up For PhDs: Exactly What to Say And When To Say It

Interview Follow-Up For PhDs: Exactly What to Say And When To Say It

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I wish I could say that I didn’t know I should send a thank-you email after my industry interviews, but that’s not entirely true.  Thank you notes weren’t a totally foreign concept to me.  I’d read or overheard it said that I should “be sure to send a thank you message after you leave your interview.”  But every article or blog post I read about this topic was roughly 10 years old. How trustworthy is job search advice from a bygone decade? And some of the points these articles wanted me to include sounded desperate to me. Like reminding them…

What Is A 30-60-90 Day Plan And Why Every PhD Needs One

What Is A 30-60-90 Day Plan And Why Every PhD Needs One

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

On my first day of work at my new role in industry, I was so excited.  I hadn’t just walked away from academia – I sprinted away and never looked back.  And it was a long road that I had traveled to find this job. I had no industry experience at all (unless you count shoveling snow out of driveways or mowing lawns).  I didn’t know the first thing about resumes or networking or how, exactly, to find a job. And my job search journey reflected that.  But now I had arrived. A large company and an exciting job in…

Top Industry Career eBooks

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

63 Best Industry Positions For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the best 63 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.