I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in an HR office waiting room. No, I wasn’t there for the reasons you may be thinking of such as an interview or to air a complaint; rather, my reason for waiting was stress free and I was able to maintain a calm demeanor while truly taking in my surroundings.

In addition to feeling relaxed (for the first time ever in an HR office), my phone was running on 2% battery life and I had no paperwork to pretend to busy myself with as I was waiting. As a result, my options were to read one of the outdated magazines located throughout the waiting room, or to simply sit and observe. Spoiler alert- I didn’t choose to read a magazine.

As I waited, I overheard the brief interactions between those checking in at the front desk and the secretary and quickly realized that I was one of the few who were not there to interview or complete mandatory training. I would assume that these individuals would be trying to make a good impression, even in the waiting room; however, what I observed did not reflect what I would expect from job candidates or new employees.

Their actions inspired me to create the following list of behaviors that you should avoid any time you are in a professional setting, even if it is just a waiting room.


  1. Focusing on Your Phone

Most of the people in the waiting room were so focused on their phones that they hardly noticed when someone entered the room. One individual only responded after their name had been called twice. TWICE. How does that look to a hiring manager or the person conducting the training? My guess is that they were not impressed.

Checking a phone is often a crutch to offset how awkward waiting can feel, and can be to your detriment. It gives the impression that whoever is texting you, or whatever is happening on social media, is more important than being present and prepared. It’s simply more professional to turn your phone on silent and keep it tucked away in your pocket or bag. Another option is leaving it in your car if it proves to be too much of a temptation.


  1. Dodging Eye Contact

Despite my best efforts, no one in the waiting room would make eye contact with me. I’m not talking about staring deeply into each other’s eyes, but any sort of acknowledgement that I was in the room with them would have been welcomed. After all, there are certain engagement signals that let those around you know that you are aware of their existence and are a professional, friendly person. Eye contact, a smile and a nod of acknowledgement are easy enough, right?


These forms of nonverbal communication are not only useful in making the waiting room a more enjoyable place to be, but they also speak volumes to current employees and managers passing through the waiting room. Eye contact, a smile and a simple “good morning” will stick out as confident in a typically stressful environment.


  1. Posture

Slumped shoulders and poor posture must be in style right now, because that’s all I saw in that waiting room. I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, slumped shoulders and bad posture don’t scream, “hire me”, or “I am ready to work”. When someone has poor posture, they already look defeated and lack confidence.


Luckily, the solution is simple. If you habitually have poor posture, awareness is key. Use your awareness to correct it (especially in professional settings) to appear self-assured, sincere and credible rather than insecure, apprehensive and defeated.


  1. Fidgeting

While I can appreciate the amount of anxiety that others in the waiting room were experiencing, the pen clicking, toe tapping, and facial hair stroking was even making me start to feel anxious.


Nerves are normal, and any manager will take those nerves into account when meeting you. However, the fidgeting and nervous ticks that tend to surface when you feel uncomfortable send a clear message that you are not in your element. Frantically riffling through papers, biting your nails and tapping your feet are all communicating your anxiety and discomfort to those around you.


The next time you find yourself in a professional setting, remember this list of behaviors so that you can avoid them and avoid making a bad impression.