10 nervous habits that make you look incompetent

Whether you’re battling it out for a job in an interview or you’re trying to impress your boss, your unconscious actions in the heat of a nerve-racking moment can be a dead giveaway that you’re uncomfortable.

What’s worse, whether it’s true or not, nervous habits often scream, “I’m not ready for this!”

Psychologists say that awareness of your tell-tale behaviours is the first step to overcoming them.

So we asked a few career experts to weigh in on what they instantly recognise as nervous habits in professional settings.

Constantly checking your phone

'In my view, the person who can't stop looking at his watch or mobile device is signalling his boredom,' Vicky Oliver, author of '301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions' and 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions.

Sadly, it's a more common habit than you might think.
A Gallup study from last year reports the majority of US smartphone owners check their phones at least a few times an hour, and cell phone addiction even has a clinical name now: 'nomophobia'.

Avoiding eye contact

Too little eye contact can hurt your chances of making the right impression, Augustine says, because it can make you appear unprepared, uninterested, insincere, and even arrogant. 'Aim to make direct contact approximately half of the time during a conversation and people will perceive you as believable, confident, and competent,' she advises.

Rubbing your hands together or on your thigh

Rosalinda Oropeza Randall, an etiquette and civility expert and the author of '
Don't Burp in the Boardroom,' tells Business Insider that while these behaviours have a soothing effect, they can take the focus away from what you're saying and may be a little 'too close for comfort' for watchers.

If your interview jitters tend to manifest themselves in your hands, Augustine suggests making a conscious effort to rest your hands firmly on your knees with your palms down or fold them on the table in front of you.

Responding, 'Hmm, that's a good question'

Saying this after every question in an interview shows how indiscriminate you are, Randall says.

Similarly, responding, 'Good point,' to everything your boss says may make you look more like a 'yes person' than someone with their own opinions.

Poorly timed behaviour

'Very loud laughter or hyena-like laughter during a solemn moment at the office can send a peculiar message to your coworkers,' Oliver says.

And doing something at an odd time, like counting your change during a staff meeting, makes you look inadvertently rude and makes everyone wonder, 'Why is she doing that right now?'


'Frowning won't just make you look unpleasant, but it also can make you look less intelligent,' Augustine says.

She points to studies that suggest that people who smile appear more intelligent and trustworthy than those who scowl.

'Practice interviewing or networking in front of a mirror so you can watch your facial expressions and make an effort to smile throughout the process,' she suggests.

Hair twirling

Hair twirling is often interpreted as ditzy or flighty behaviour, Augustine says.

'Resist the twirling temptation by wearing an updo such as a french twist, bun, or smart ponytail,' she suggests. 'This is a great way to step up your interview look and resist revealing your nervousness.'

Repeating, 'Um' or 'Like'

Oliver warns that repeating filler words such as 'like' or 'um' makes you look young and unpolished, and constantly re-using the same word or phrase can make you seem insecure.

Teeth grinding

'If you grind your teeth at night, you may find yourself clenching or grinding your teeth during stressful situations,' Augustine says. 'This behaviour can make you appear angry, overbearing, or just plain anxious.'

The next time you feel your jaw tightening up, she suggests taking a deep slow breath and relaxing your facial muscles.

Speed talking

'Besides sounding incomprehensible to the interviewer, you appear incompetent and out of control,' Augustine says. 'By matching the volume and speed of speech with your audience, you will force yourself to slow down and become instantly more relatable to the other person.'

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