Mod Note (Andy) - as the year comes to an end we're reposting the top discussions from 2015, this one ranks #42 and was originally posted 11/13/2015.
Confidence matters. Often it matters more than whether or not you're actually qualified.
Hewlett Packard discovered this years ago...
They were researching the discrepancy between men and women in upper management. Sexism was certainly a potential factor. But they found another factor contributing as well.
Men would apply for promotions when they met only 60% of the criteria. Women waited until they had 100%.
The result? Men received more promotions.
Not because they were better suited for the job. But because they raised their hands and said, "I want it."
My point in sharing this story is to illustrate that in life, and especially in the working world, your raw talent is far from the only thing that matters.
Your confidence, your willingness to extend yourself, your belief that you'll succeed, all these things have a massive impact on whether or not you'll get that new job you're applying for or your next promotion.
Now confidence isn't a cure-all. Poor performance will almost always catch up with you. Confidence must be paired with SOME level of competence for long-term results. Talent matters. But that's a subject for another post.
This post is about confidence. How to cultivate it. How to exude it. How to gain confidence in life's biggest moments so that you can squelch self-doubt and catch more of the breaks that confidence brings.
This is meant to apply to interviews, but really it can apply to any area of your life.
Here are the top 6 things you need to know:
1) First, get comfortable with the worst-case scenario
It's 2015. If you're reading this article, your life is probably rarely in danger. So why do we sometimes freak out in social or business situations as if our lives were on the line?
Rapid heart beat, sweaty palms, shaking hands, tight chest or voicebox. What's going on is that our overactive amygdalas haven't realized the days of being hunted in the wild are over now. So in times of stress, our body is happy to start spiking our cortisol levels, leaving us sweaty and panicked at the first sign that the stakes are high and something valuable is on the line.
For some of us, the stress reaction you get before a job interview is a mini version of the reaction you'd get if a lion were chasing you. The experience is called "amygdala hijacking," and it is no bueno.
You see, a racing heart, singular focus, and rapid breathing are great if you need to outrun a predator. They're not so great for making a strong positive first impression on an interviewer.
What we need is a way to cool our amygdalas. We need to remove the freeze/fight/flight response from the task at hand (unless of course, the task at hand is running from a lion.)
This is why step #1 for peak interview performance is getting concrete on your actual worst-case scenario. Because it makes you realize that your life is not actually on the line.
Sure, you really want this job. But there will be others. And when you start to appreciate that the stakes aren't nearly as high as you've imagined them, then your amygdala can stop hijacking your brain, freeing up bandwidth for you to shine.
Here's the key: focus only on the aftermath.
I'm not saying to visualize yourself answering questions incorrectly but feeling okay about it. Do not do that.
What I'm suggesting is to take a few deep breaths, and imagine how you would cope if the interview went badly. Maybe you don't get the job. Maybe you're bummed for a while. Maybe you have to apply to more jobs. Maybe it's a pain in the butt.
But 6 months, 6 years, 60 years down the line...is this one interview really going to determine the quality of your life?
Of course not. No one ever looked back on their deathbed and regretted that one interview they flubbed. In the grand scheme of things, it's a wash.
And that's great. Because now you don't have to treat it like your life depends on it.
2) Rehearse success at least 3 times
I've read many studies on the effectiveness of visualization and am a big fan of it as a tool to improve performance.
That being said, there's one tool I have found to trump visualization time and time again, despite what the research shows.
What is this amazing confidence building tool?
This will hopefully surprise exactly zero people but if you want to be more confident, the best first step is experiential confidence.
This may sound obvious, but you'd be amazed how many walk into an interview and stumble over their answer to "tell me about yourself" or "walk me through your resume". They knew it was coming. They had to! It's asked in 99% of interviews. Yet there they are, looking down at their resume trying to figure out how to describe what they've done in the past.
How is this possible??
If you know a question is going to be asked, rehearse an answer to it. Heck, if you know a question might be asked, rehearse an answer to it. If you can't answer, "Tell me about yourself," in the comfort of your own home, you're going to have to get pretty lucky to nail it in front of your dream employer.
Don't just say the answer in your head. Say it out loud. Get used to forming the sentences in your brain and your mouth. Ideally you'd find a friend and mock interview each other, but at the very least you can talk to yourself in the mirror.
You don't need to have the exact words memorized (in fact, if you do go that route, make sure you practice making it sound natural so you don't sound like a robot regurgitating your answers). But you should most definitely practice all the most common fit and technical questions OUT LOUD until you feel comfortable saying your answers.
3) An hour before, prep work slows; Fifteen minutes before, all prep stops
Up to an hour before showtime, you can go over your main beats. Fifteen minutes before showtime, the notecards are done. Practice ends. Don't cram. Don't rehearse. Don't sit in the waiting room reviewing common interview questions.
At this point, any more preparation will only distract you from what you really need: unbridled confidence. This period of downtime is critical because it allows space for you to get confident before you step into the limelight.
You don't want to wait until your in the midst of the interview to work your way up to a confident swing. You want to feel primed to perform from minute one.
Now it's time to focus on getting into the right emotional state...
4) Discover how to gain confidence with your body
Every emotion has a corresponding physical manifestation. When we shift our bodies, we shift our emotions. Anger, sadness, and happiness have very different and distinct ways they are non-verbally expressed.
It isn't hard for you to see this. Picture someone sad in your mind. Now picture someone happy in your mind. They stand differently, they hold their heads differently, etc.
The interesting thing is, scientists have discovered that as much as our emotions shape our body language, our body language can also have a reverse affect on our emotions.
So before the big moment, get your power pose on. If you can stand, do the wonder woman and breathe deep. If you have to sit, open, asymmetrical poses tend to inspire the most confidence.
In either case, keep your head up, keep your shoulders back, smile, breath deep, and purposefully embody the physical positions of a confident person.
Find what feels best for you and give yourself 30 seconds to two minutes. Studies show that's all the time it takes to temporarily boost testosterone and trigger more confident brain chemistry.
5) Create Patterns That Build Confidence
Maybe when you're nervous you mutter. Maybe you avoid eye contact. Maybe you tell yourself, "Don't screw it up like last time," over and over and over...
You need to become aware of these patterns. We all have them. And the difference between confident people and everyone else is that confident people have patterns that make them feel confident.
So reverse engineer the process.
Think about the last time you felt super confident. How were you carrying yourself? What were you thinking to yourself? What was your voice like?
Act that out.
It may feel odd at first. You may not feel like enunciating clearly or holding solid eye contact right now, but that's the whole point - change the subtle behaviors and you can control your emotions.
If you're wondering how to gain confidence from this, you need to experiment. For me, a feeling of confidence means I smile huge, speak loudly, and gesticulate more. For some of my clients, standing up straight is most important. For others it's deep breaths.
Everyone is unique here, so play around and notice what creates the biggest difference for you.
6) Take it to them
Confidence and taking the initiative form a virtuous cycle. Decisive action breeds confidence as quickly as indecisiveness saps confidence.
So take charge of the situation from the start.
When you walk into the office, smile and confidently / happily say hello to whoever's at the front desk. When you're introduced to your interviewer, stand up straight, look her/him in the eyes, beam a smile and extend your hand for the handshake.
When you make the first move, you signal both to the audience and to yourself that you have conviction in your actions. Not only will your brain pick up on the cues, so will the people around you.
When you're carrying yourself with confidence, your interviewer will be rooting for you. They can't help it. And they may even start to help you in subtle ways.
Recognize you're going to be okay, rehearse until you can handle whatever comes your way, and prime yourself to hit the ground running. That initial positive momentum can carry you through the scariest interview feeling like a champion.