By Karen Burns - Monday September 28, 2009
Of course, almost everyone knows you shouldn't light up a cigarette at a job interview, or text your closest friend, or eat, or bring your dog, or show up drunk, or challenge the interviewer to arm wrestle (all things people have actually done at job interviews). You'd never dream of doing any of this, right?
But you may be guilty of other less horrible but just as damaging behaviors. While you're trying to wow hiring managers with your knowledge and enthusiasm, you may forget that they're watching you as well as listening to you. In fact, hiring managers actively search for annoying mannerisms in job applicants. They assume that if you are a little annoying at an interview, you will be much more so once you're hired and off your guard.
Unfortunately, lasting impressions are formed within 90 seconds of first meeting. So, consider whether you're guilty of any of these less than horrendous but still irksome mannerisms, and take steps to eradicate them:
Gum chewing. Not a high crime, but a really easy way to look unprofessional. Throw your gum away before even entering the building, or find another way to get fresh breath.
Hair twirling. It may simply be a habit, but it makes you look young and silly. Ask a friend if this is something you do. If it is, consider sweeping your hair back for the interview. Outta sight, outta mind.
Slouching. Good posture communicates energy and confidence, while slouching communicates lethargy, boredom, or insecurity. Note: If you're an "older job seeker," know that experts recommend you make an extra effort at posture so you project youthful enthusiasm and health.
Avoiding eye contact. If you can't meet someone's eye, it looks like you're hiding something. If gazing into someone's eyes freaks you out, look at their nose. It works just as well.
Knee jiggling or finger drumming. Do you want to appear nervous, even out of control? Do you want to drive your interviewer crazy? If your answer is no, train yourself to keep still by breathing deeply and consciously relaxing your muscles.
Yawning (or sighing). Yawning may seem like something you can't control, but your interviewer will see it very differently and might think: "He's bored" or "What, she didn't get enough sleep the night before her interview? She must not care enough." Remember: you're supposed to be on your best behavior in an interview.
Playing with your pen. This is an easy one--set the pen down.
Checking your cellphone. Leave it in the car. Or just shut it off. You won't need it, and you really don't want it to ring during the interview. If you forget, and it rings, swiftly grab it and shut it off, and apologize quickly and concisely. Then move on. Definitely do not answer your phone or check your texts during your time at the company.
Nail biting. Come on, are you in high school? Stop biting your nails!
Sniffling. If you have a cold, take a decongestant, or make sure you blow your nose before the interview. If you sneeze, simply say: "Forgive me for sneezing, I have a bit of a cold." You definitely don't want to give the impression that you're sick a lot, so don't sniffle through the whole interview or make it an issue in any way.
Picking at, rubbing, or scratching any part of your body. Eww. Bottom line: The interview is not the place for personal hygiene of any kind.
Waving your hands while speaking. Using gestures to punctuate your ideas can be part of being an effective speaker. But overdoing it derails your answer and the impression you're trying to make. This is another area where feedback can be very helpful.
Tugging at your cuffs or at the hem of your skirt. Fiddling with your clothes communicates discomfort and insecurity. The interviewer may conclude you're not used to wearing a suit or you're not comfortable in your dress, and that's not good. An employer wants to hire people who look like they were made for the job--like they already suit the position.
Resting your chin in your hand. You bored? Tired? Bored and tired? Wish you were somewhere else? No problem. The hiring manager will wish you were there, too.
Smiling too much (or not smiling at all). Yes, it's important to appear congenial and interested in the interviewer and in the job, but you don't want to come off like a con artist or a fake. Ask someone close to you if you tend to smile too much when you're nervous.
Bet you didn't know there were so many ways to be annoying! Before your next interview, practice with a trusted friend or adviser. Or videotape yourself answering questions. It could be the best thing you do for your job hunt.
Karen Burns is the author of the illustrated career advice book The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use, recently released by Running Press. She blogs at www.karenburnsworkinggirl.com.