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8 Subtle Habits That Ruin Interviews (& How to Break Them!)


Have you ever noticed that you twirl your hair or let your eyes roam during an interview? Trust us, we didn't know we were doing those things, either! The tricky part about habits is that you don't realize that you have them, but other people certainly notice that you do, no matter how small the habits may be. When it comes to stressful situations like interviews, these habits can become more pronounced and can be very distracting to the interviewer. It's even possible that your subtle interview habits are affecting your chances of landing your dream internship job.

Luckily, Her Campus is here to help you figure out whether or not you have any subtle interview habits and give you some tips for how to fix them!

1. Ignoring the security guard

Did you know that your interview often begins before you even step into the interviewer's office? You walk through the lobby, take the elevator and give the receptionist your name without a second thought, especially when your mind is so focused on the upcoming interview. You're also nervous and don't really pay attention to the people you're interacting with as you reach the destination of your interview.

Interview coach Barry Drexler says that this is a common first misstep.

"I tell students to be friendly to everyone within five miles of the company," Drexler says. "The first people I would ask about what they thought of a candidate would be the security guard and the receptionist, because that's when the candidate's guard is down." So it's important to be on your best behavior way before the interview actually starts!

2. Looking distracted in the reception area

Once you reach the reception area, it's also easy to think that it's the same as every other dentist office reception area—you sink into a chair and pull out a magazine or your phone while you wait for your name to be called. Though subtle, these actions can speak volumes and can sometimes determine how the rest of the interview will go.

"[When you're] sitting in a reception area, turn your phone off,” Drexler says. “Don't be fumbling with your phone, don't be reading a big magazine, because the person is going to come out from any direction in a moment's notice to shake your hand, and that's the first impression. If [the interviewer's] first impression is that of you turning off your phone and he's standing there with his hand extended, you're done."

To make the best first impression possible, don't slouch, fidget or be distracted by anything while you wait for your interview. Instead, sit upright, poised and ready to stand up at a moment's notice to greet the interviewer with a big smile and a firm handshake.

3. Avoiding eye contact

According to Drexler, the most important habit to avoid during an interview is eye roaming, or avoiding eye contact with the person to whom you’re talking. When you're feeling uncomfortable, it's common to find it difficult to sustain eye contact with the interviewer and instead let your eyes roam around the room. However, this conveys to the interviewer a lack of presence and that you’re not paying attention to what he or she is saying. "People need to be engaged and present and mindful," Drexler says. "The most important thing is to be engaged and show that you're an active listener."

By making eye contact regularly, you’ll be able to establish a connection and trust with the interviewer. However, it's also important not to stare and make the interviewer uncomfortable. "When the interviewer is talking or asking a question, you must look them straight in the eyes, don't look away at all, but don't stare... at their eyes in a strange glaring way; just be natural and let your face say that you're interested in what they are saying," Drexler says. "While you're 'answering questions' you should look away for a split second here and there to illustrate that you are thinking of something." To find that perfect amount of eye contact to maintain, try interviewing in front of a mirror and practicing making eye contact with your reflection.

4. Displaying nervous tics

Movies and television shows often show girls twirling and flipping their hair to get attention. Unfortunately, these habits will only warrant negative attention in an interview setting. Nervous tics such as playing with your hair, bouncing your leg and fidgeting are extremely distracting to the interviewer and display a lack of active listening, confidence and professionalism.

"Interviewers are looking at the superficial because they don't know you yet," says career coach Deborah Brown-Volkman. "If you're fidgeting, employers [will] think maybe you're not interested."

Wear your hair up and away from your face during interviews to avoid playing with your hair. To combat leg-bouncing, plant both of your feet firmly on the floor.

Other nervous habits you could have could be not being able to sit still, drumming your hands, twisting the cap to a water bottle or not knowing where to put your hands or arms.

The key to tackling nervous habits is confidence and self-affirmation. "I tell students that no one makes you feel nervous; it's impossible for someone to have that much control over your thoughts," Drexler says. "No one can intimidate you. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. It's all in your own mind. You're making yourself nervous." By replacing those negative thoughts about not getting a job or internship with positive affirmations, you'll be on your way to acing your interview!

5. Projecting bad body language

What you say in an interview is as important as how you say it. Bad body language, such as slouching or being too stiff, takes away from your words. "You have to know how to use body language effectively," Drexler says. "When you make an important point, you [should] lean forward and become animated."

Brown-Volkman believes that how you carry yourself is the most important part of an interview. "The interviewer doesn't know you," she says. "All they know is what you say and how you say it, so the most important thing is to hold your head up high, be confident and be passionate, and that's sitting up straight, not slouching and fidgeting."

6. Speaking in a monotone voice

We've all had one of those professors before—the ones who read off their notes in a completely boring voice. "When you think of a college professor, the worst of the worst read from a speech and they're monotone and flat," Drexler says. "No one wants to listen to that. That's not effective communication."

The same concept applies to interviews. No interviewer wants to listen to someone answer questions in a way that reminds them of a past sleep-inducing professor. Instead, show interest by pausing, raising and lowering your voice when appropriate and using body language effectively. "These are subtle nonverbal cues that are critical," Drexler says.

Another common nervous habit is rushing out responses to interview questions. When you feel nervous, it's easy to start talking really fast. It's important to remember to take a deep breath and slow down so that the interviewer understands the points that you are making. On the same note, some people also tend to talk louder when they’re nervous. To fix this, take in a few deep breaths through your nose and loosen your jaw. Relaxing the muscles in your face and neck helps lower your speaking volume back to normal.

7. Being socially awkward

Yes, being socially awkward is a real thing, and it's more common than you think. Social awkwardness can come out when you're nervous, and it can manifest itself in many subtle ways, like mistiming a handshake or acting robotic. According to Drexler, college students have more of a tendency to be nervous than people with experience and often come across as very stiff during interviews. "They don't display their personalities; either they're afraid to, they're too nervous or they're not in the moment," he says. "They don't come across [as] real."

This habit often results from sticking too much by the book. "It's painful to watch. You sit there going, 'I know this person is a person, and I know they have a personality, I know they're fun, but I can't tell,'" Drexler says. "Oftentimes, if they break through and get hired, it's like they're a different person once they start working."

To display more of your personality during interviews, Drexler suggests not being so formal and instead turning the interview into a conversation. "The key is to make a connection with the interviewer. This is about finding common ground and for the candidate to show a genuine interest in what's being discussed... be personable, animated; show passion and confidence," Drexler says. "Sharing personal interests is fine; taking it too far is volunteering information that would hurt you as a candidate, or cursing."

8. Not smiling enough

There's always one person who everyone loves working with. Chances are she's really nice and friendly. These are qualities that you should definitely convey during your interview, which means that neutral or bored looks should not be a part of your facial expressions repertoire. Not looking happy enough or not smiling enough due to nerves is a problem to watch out for. It's important to have a personable, enthusiastic and bright facial expression.

"Smiling and being personable is so important because people want to work with someone they like, [someone] who's a good person, a nice person, and who's friendly," Drexler says. "College students come across so stiff that they don't seem friendly, even though they are."

When you're nervous, your facial expression may express that in a number of ways, and it's important to know what expression you tend to wear during interviews. If you look pleasant, the interviewer is more likely to think that you really want the job and are genuinely excited to interview about it. So put on that million-dollar smile and work your charm!

Breaking the habits

Habits are habits; they tend to be difficult to break. Nonetheless, with some work and dedication, any nervous habit can be stopped.

The starting point is self-awareness. "You can't fix something unless you're aware of it," Brown-Volkman says. Interviewers won't tell you if you're doing something wrong. And you may not be able to can't your nervous habits yourself. So to determine what nervous habits you may have, ask a close friend or family member to help you out. Maybe they'll be able to tell you right away what your usual habits are because they see it all the time and are usually pretty evident.

It's a good idea to role-play with a friend or family member acting as the interviewer. Your school's career center is also a great resource; most centers offer mock interviews for you to practice your skills and get professional feedback.

Ashley McDonald, a junior at Central Michigan University, learned the importance of preparation from past experience. "When I went in for an interview once, I came in feeling happy-go-lucky," she says. "I didn't prepare beforehand—I thought it would just come to me, essentially. I learned the hard way to always prep answers for interview questions well in advance."

So no matter how annoying your newly discovered habit is, or how long you've had it for, there is a way to fix it. "There's no question that a person can alleviate whatever nervous habit they have," Drexler says. "Anyone can learn anything, whatever it is. The difference is just how much work it's going to take." With some self-awareness and a lot of dedication, you'll be able to improve your interview habits and be that much closer to landing your perfect job!

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