10 Body Language Mistakes to Avoid in a Job Interview


Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson | BBC

You’ve perfected your elevator pitch, can explain your greatest weakness, and know exactly where you want to be in five years. But have you studied your body language? If not, you could end up costing yourself a job offer.

Half of interviewers decide within the first five minutes of an interview whether a person is the right match for the job, a survey of more than 2,600 hiring managers by job search website CareerBuilder found. Often, it’s body language miscues that are turning them off. Fidgeting, a weak handshake, or a constant grimace can leave a bad impression and can take even the most talented candidates out of the running for the position. Combine those errors with other mistakes, like dressing inappropriately, swearing, or displaying an arrogant attitude, and you have a recipe for an interview disaster.

Nervousness is likely to blame for many of the body language mistakes people are making when they come in for a face-to-face interview. If you’re anxious about sitting down with the hiring manager, the result could be sweaty palms, shifty eyes, and pen twirling, all of which could hurt your chances of getting an offer. To banish those interview jitters, you need to prepare.

“The best solution to minimize pre-interview anxiety is solid preparation,” Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder, said in a statement. “If you don’t read about the company and research your role thoroughly, you could magnify your fear of interviewing poorly and lose the opportunity.”

Not sure if your body language is all wrong? Check out this list of the 10 biggest body language mistakes you can make in an interview, according to CareerBuilder’s survey.

10. A handshake that’s too strong

Handshake between two colleagues in office

A firm handshake | iStock.com/Saklakova

A firm handshake makes a good first impression, researchers have found, but it’s possible to overdo it. A too-strong handshake was a big turnoff to 9% of HR managers CareerBuilder surveyed.

When shaking hands with your interviewer for the first time, you want your grip to be firm, not crushing. Aside from possibly causing some serious pain, a bone-smashing handshake might make your interviewer think you’re too aggressive, or perhaps even difficult to work with. “Twisting the other person’s hand so that yours is superior or playing hand jujitsu to let the other person know you are in charge is just rubbish,” body language expert Joe Navarro wrote in an article for Psychology Today.

9. Using too many hand gestures

Ben Stiller in Mystery Men

Ben Stiller in Mystery Men | Universal

Thirteen percent of hiring managers said using too many hand gestures while speaking was a big interview mistake. While talking with your hands has the potential to make you seem more likable, body language expert Janine Driver told Today, flailing arms and wild gestures can be off-putting.

“The higher the gesture, the more out-of-control you look,” Driver said in an interview. The key in an interview is balance: Some hand movement keeps you from coming off as too stiff, but too much and you could look like a loose cannon.

8. Having a weak handshake

shaking hands during a job interview

Shaking hands during an interview | iStock.com

A dead-fish handshake is even worse than a too-strong one, according to CareerBuilder’s survey. Nearly one quarter of HR managers said a weak handshake was a body language mistake.

“Many people find the unwillingness to give a firm handshake as the sign of a lack of commitment or determination — both qualities an interviewer wants to see in an eager new employee,” John Feldmann of Insperity Recruiting Services wrote in a post for Undercover Recruiter.

7. Touching your face

Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone

Macaulay Culkin touching his face | Fox

Twenty-eight percent of hiring managers said playing with your hair or touching your face was an interview no-no. The first makes you look childish and stressed, body language expert Patti Wood told Forbes. The latter conveys something even worse.

“Face touching, especially on the nose, is commonly interpreted as an indication of deception,” professional coach Marc Chernoff explained in a blog post.

6. Not sitting up straight

Kramer from Seinfeld

Kramer showing some bad posture | NBC

Slumping in your seat doesn’t convey confidence. Thirty-one percent of HR experts said it made candidates look less than polished in an interview. (If you have a tendency to slouch, try these exercises to improve your posture.)

Sitting up straight and squaring your shoulders not only makes you look confident, but it also shows you respect your interviewer and the situation you’re in, according to Navarro. “No matter what branch of the military you observe, one thing stands out: their shoulders say look at me, I am a leader; follow me. This is part of establishing hierarchy, but it is also how we demonstrate respect,” he wrote in an article for Psychology Today.

5. Crossing your arms

man with crossed arms

Man with crossed arms | Clemens Bilan/AFP/Getty Images

Crossing your arms in front of your chest makes you look defensive and hostile, so it’s no wonder that 32% of HR managers said this was not something they liked to see in people they interviewed.

“You should appear open and approachable, which means your hands should be in front of you and ready to gesture naturally,” Karen Friedman, author of Shut Up and Say Something, told Forbes.

4. Fidgeting

paul ryan

House Speaker Paul Ryan fidgets with his tie | Allison Shelley/Getty Images

Hiring managers don’t look kindly on job seekers who have trouble sitting still, with 32% saying that too much shifting in your seat or foot tapping was a big interview mistake.

Unfortunately, you might get fidgety during job interviews and not even realize it. Try doing a mock interview with a friend so they can let you know about any nervous gestures you might be making.

3. Playing with something on the table

Tommy Boy | Paramount Pictures

Tommy Boy | Paramount Pictures

Thirty-four percent of hiring managers cited fiddling with pens or shuffling papers as a major example of poor body language in an interview. Clicking a pen or similar gestures can be interpreted as a sign of anxiety, according to Chernoff.

“It can also be interpreted as a lack of preparedness,” he wrote. “It’s always best to keep your hands comfortably at rest when you’re in the presence of others.”

 2. Not smiling

Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: A New Hope

Grumpy Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: A New Hope | Lucasfilm

Stony-faced candidates don’t do well in interviews, with 39% of people surveyed saying not cracking a smile was one of the biggest mistakes a job seeker could make. After all, who wants to work with someone who’s always grumpy?

Not only does smiling make you seem warm and friendly, but it might even calm your interview jitters. A study by researchers at the University of Cardiff found that people who’d received Botox treatments and were thus unable to frown reported being happier and less anxious than those who could still look down in the mouth.

1. Not making eye contact

a woman with awkward body language in a job interview

Job interview | iStock.com

Failing to make eye contact was the body language mistake interviewers were most likely to say they hated. Sixty-seven percent of people surveyed said they didn’t like it when candidates kept their eyes cast down. While you don’t want to get into a creepy staring contest with your interviewer, looking at them while listening and speaking shows you’re engaged in the conversation.

“If you have a habit of looking away while listening, it shows a lack of interest and a short attention span,” career adviser Jeffrey Ory told the Chicago Tribune.

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