Job applicants have always been told to avoid fidgeting during interviews. And now scientists say they have proof that it affects performance - but only for women, and not men.
Interviews can be nerve-wracking. Sweaty palms and a racing heart can be forgiven but fidgeting has always been considered a definite no-no.
Now scientists at the University of Roehampton in London say if you are male, fidgeting can actually work in your favour. Researchers found men put under pressure performed better when they were scratching, lip biting and touching their face because it seemed to relax them.
But this was not the case for women: it seems fidgeting had the opposite effect on the fairer sex.
Research was gathered by mocking up job interviews where men and women were made to perform in front of two interviewers. The candidates were required to give a five minute presentation about why they were the best person for the job followed by a five minute maths test. The heart rate of candidates was closely monitored during their arithmetic test and they were then asked about stressed they felt taking the test.
It seems that men have an effective behavioural strategy – fidgeting - to combat their nervousness, but for women, the same behaviour actually makes things much worse. Professor Changiz Mohiyeddini, study author
Although the number of people in employment in the UK has been going up, unemployment still stands at 2.49 million. In the battle of the sexes to secure a job, these findings could change the way people approach interviews, says lead author of the study Professor Changiz Mohiyeddini: "Our study provides unique insights into the way that men and women differ in coping with the pressure of a job interview. It seems that men have an effective behavioural strategy – fidgeting - to combat their nervousness, but for women, the same behaviour actually makes things much worse."
Men fidget more
The findings also showed that men fidgeted twice as much as women during their presentation but they made fewer mistakes during the maths test and felt significantly less stressed about the whole experience. Men that fidgeted the most were also found to perform the best and were the most at ease compared to their female counterparts who felt much more uncomfortable and made more mistakes.
Heather McGregor, CEO of executive search firm Taylor Bennett and the author of careers advice for ambitious women told Channel 4 News she does not think that interview stress is gender related.
"We interview over 1,000 people for jobs each year, half of each gender, and have not noticed any discernible difference between the sexes," she said.
"But it is true to say that proper preparation for interviews will reduce stress for both men and women, and as for fidgeting, remember that 85 per cent of communication is non verbal, so be careful what you are saying to people through your actions."
Co-author of the study, Stuart Semple, said that the results were surprising. He added: "There is always the concern that employers are put off by a fidgeting applicant, but there are ways round this. Instead of touching the face or biting the lip, conspicuously moving the legs or tapping your hands silently under the table may work just as well".
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE today.