10 Ways to Blow a Job Interview Without Saying a Word

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: February 11, 2015

It's All in How You Present Yourself

First impressions aren't everything, but...well, sometimes they are everything.

Hiring managers might not ever admit it publicly, but first impressions often help drive hiring decisions to a large degree. In a new survey from CareerBuilder, employers opened up about job interviews -- specifically how bad body language negatively influences their decision on moving forward in the interview process. According to the nationwide survey which polled more than 2,100 hiring and human resource managers, nearly half -- 49% -- of employers know within the first five minutes of an interview if a candidate is a good fit. After 15 minutes, that number rockets all the way up to 90%.

The survey also examined how non-verbal cues can have an even bigger impact on whether a candidate is hired than the words he/she uses. So what kinds of bad body language are hiring managers look for, and how can you avoid them?

10. Too Strong of a Handshake

Too much of a good thing can actually be bad.

Case in point, 7% of those surveyed said they were put off by handshakes that were just too strong. While everyone knows a firm handshake is a good thing, there's a difference between firm and Hulk. Try not to be so overanxious and eager to impress that you break bones or pull the interviewer's shoulder out of socket with vigorous squeezing and shaking. Shake hands with confidence, but don't be the "hand crippler" or else your chances of being hired drop precipitously.

9. Too Many Hand Gestures

Someone who makes an impression is good, but if you accidentally smack your interviewer with an errant hand gesture? Not so good.

Of all the hiring managers interviewed, 11% said they are put off by people who gesticulate wildly during job interviews. While it might seem harmless to some, it's hard for your hiring manager to focus on what you're saying because of all the arm-flailing. Businesses can't have someone who acts like an air traffic controller or looks like they're doing sign language for a telecast, pitching clients. A little hand gesture here or there isn't bad, but if you do it habitually to the point of distraction, that's going to be a problem.

8. Too Weak of a Handshake

This is the opposite problem as the steroid grip.

Although the too strong handshake is a slight problem, a much higher percentage (22%) of hiring managers said they have a bigger problem with a weak handshake. No one likes to kick off an introduction with a dead fish handshake. You know what we're talking about. They go for a firm grip and you offer a wishy-washy, limp handshake in return. Look, the bottom line is no one wants to hire someone who is seen as weak. So make your handshake firm and solid to convey the same sentiment about yourself in general.

7. Playing With Hair/Touching Face

A whole bunch of employers don't hire the incessant hair-twiddlers.

According to the survey, one-quarter of all hiring managers polled said they are bothered by candidates who constantly play with their hair or touch their faces. While it's understandable this is likely a nervous habit, that's just not going to fly. If you're constantly fiddling with your hair or touching your face, you risk coming off as either distracted, nervous, or disinterested -- none of which bodes well for your future employment.

The person interviewing you is trying to discuss investing their time and money in you on a long-term basis, so the least you can do is seem like you're paying attention.

6. Crossed Arms

Twenty-six percent of hiring managers said crossed arms was the biggest body language pet peeve.

The bottom line is candidates with crossed arms are sending off a vibe of defiance, defensiveness, and resistance. If you do this in an interview you're telling the other person you're literally guarding yourself against them and their questions. Considering the ultimate goal is a partnership in which a certain amount of trust is involved, it's not advantageous to enter into an employer-employee relationship with someone who is seen as standoffish right from jump street.

5. Too Much Fidgeting

There's just something about people who constantly fidget that makes them suspect.

So says 29% of hiring managers surveyed about people who never stop fidgeting in their seats during job interviews. It makes sense when you think about it because someone who fidgets (absent some kind of medical condition) just seems naturally uncomfortable. Confident people are able to face the other person and have a back and forth, uninterrupted by shifting around in their seats, bouncing their legs, or tapping their fingernails on the desk the whole time.

If you're interviewing for a job that consists of presenting to clients or other team members, there's no way they can hire you if they don't think you can convey a sense of confidence.

4. Bad Posture

There's a reason moms the world over yell "SIT UP STRAIGHT!" at their offspring.

First impressions matter, especially when your job is to win over a room of people. And whether anyone likes it or not, how you present yourself matters just as much as what you say. That's probably why 30% of hiring managers listed bad posture as their biggest pet peeve during job interviews. If you sits up straight and focus on your audience, that's going to go over a lot better than being slumped over with hunched shoulders and sending out an attitude of defeat. Think more Tigger and less Eeyore.

3. Playing With Something on the Table

This one is a little surprising, mainly because what the heck are you playing with instead of listening intently to the person interviewing you?

Yet one-third of hiring managers surveyed said they are most put off by interviewees who play with whatever object is on the table in front of them during the job interview. One person surveyed said one individual who was interviewed laid out 50 pens on the table prior to the start of the interview and began playing with them. Another said the candidate in question was completely preoccupied with the duffel bag he brought to the interview, which turned out to have a live dog in it.

The bottom line is if you're more interested in some gadget or toy on the table and can't turn your full attention to the person right in front of you, you don't deserve to be hired. If you're going to be distracted by every shiny object within reach during the interview, then who knows what you'll do in front of clients.

2. No Smiling


It seems so easy. So natural. So expected. After all, you're meeting someone for the first time and trying to impress him/her enough to get hired. Yet 36% of hiring managers surveyed said a lack of a smile during the job interview was the biggest red flag.

How hard is it to smile? Even if you don't really mean it, it's the polite thing to do. It's common courtesy and basic manners. So if you can't even muster up the basic civilities most kindergarten students have, don't be surprised if they pass and move on to someone a little more cordial.

1. Lack of Eye Contact

This one should come as no surprise.

The number one complaint (by far) from hiring managers surveyed is lack of eye contact. A whopping 65% of respondents said habitually avoiding eye contact during job interviews is the number one red flag, and the one behavior that leads to not moving ahead with the hiring process. Cultural differences aside, it's only polite to look at someone when you're talking to them. Failure to do so is not only rude, it's indicative of someone who isn't even comfortable enough to hold the gaze of a peer or client, nevermind interacting with them in order to close a deal.

If you can't even look your interviewer in the eye, how do you expect to get an offer?

Fix Your Mistakes, Then Negotiate

Assuming you can fix your non-verbal job interview gaffes, eventually you'll get a job offer. Then it'll be time to negotiate, and Salary.com can help you get paid fairly what you do.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.