Can your nail biting habit harm a job interview?

by Aug 20, 2012Dear Dorothy

Hi  Dorothy – I have always had a bad nail biting habit, with my nails normally bitten right down to the quick. Can it impact any assessment of me in the job search process? I worry that it might. Louisa, Brussels

Hi Louisa – There are a number of areas where severely bitten nails can influence an interview assessment:


There’s no other way to say this! Nails bitten to the quick do not look great, especially if the candidate has expressive hand movements which draws attention to them. A candidate who sits on her hands or tries to conceal her nails will look equally odd! So it’s a no win. If your general grooming is professionally acceptable, you will probably be fine. One possibility is to have fake nails fitted at a nail salon for a really important interview – although not the long talon type!

Personality fit

Nail biting (onychophagia as it is also called) has historically been associated with anxiety and stress release. In an extreme form it is a type of self-harm. Today, the thinking is broader with suggestions that this is no longer necessarily the case. Approximately 10-20% of adults bite their nails apparently and it is widespread across different cultures and in both genders, although more commonly found amongst men. So if a candidate is competent and outwardly calm, but has bitten nails, it will be less obvious and have lower impact. Here, any assessment will only be made in line with the level of general grooming and appearance needed for the role in question. The appearance of the hands of a Landscape Designer or Construction Manager will probably be less significant than the look of the hands of a PR Executive.

Read: Learn how to stop biting your nails by Helen Sanders

Check out the 3Plus coaching programmes if you have a problem with nail biting or any other issue in the interview process.

However, if a candidate exhibits other manifestations of nervousness, stress and anxiety and also has badly bitten nails, that could indeed have an impact. I would probably be asking questions related to stress in general terms, indications of ability to handle pressure and looking at team fit. So even something as basic as nails can be factored into any final decision.  All of this will depend on the role, the organisation, skill set and the team composition.

The key issue will be to establish if there is general underlying anxiety, which could negatively impact not just candidate assessment, but life in general. If this is the case, professional support would be advisable.

If it’s not – just go to a beauty parlour a week before the big day and get that French manicure!




Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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