We all know that person. The one who effortlessly glides down office hallways, in and out of meetings, or into handshake situations – their assuredness and sense of self-worth billowing out behind them like the train of an overzealous wedding dress. They’ve racked up promotions like Steph Curry does three-pointers, always seem like the smartest person in the room (even if they don’t seem particularly clever in one-on-one situations), and never have any trouble landing job interviews – and inevitably – job offers.
Meanwhile, no matter how low you put your nose to the grindstone, how well you’ve performed, and how many job interviews you land, you just can’t seem to mirror their level of achievement or their affinity for scoring new roles. And frankly, you just can’t understand it.
But scientists can. And it comes down to one factor: confidence.
Confidence Trumps Competence in Job Interviews
Thanks to the persistence and investigation of University of Berkeley Professor Dr. Cameron Anderson, it’s been proven that, in the working world, confident people go further than competent people and those who rely on hard work alone. Dr. Anderson’s study also found that confident people are often perceived as more competent than they actually are.
That means two things:
1. Smarts and skills are no longer enough to cut it
2. Those who aren’t that great still come off as great
So, what does this mean for job interviewing?
As another group of researchers so eloquently proved: it’s the X factor.
“If people are equal in all other dimensions [skills, qualifications, and expertise], that’s where confidence can make the difference,” explains Dr. Derek Rucker, professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Rucker and three other scientists created an experiment that attempted to figure out the role power-induced feelings, like confidence, play in a job interview specifically. And unsurprisingly, they came away concluding that interviewers are in fact more likely to offer jobs to powerful-feeling, confident people.
That puts the shrinking violets of the world (unconfident people) at a distinct disadvantage. And to make things worse, it’s not only interviewers who respond more positively to confidence; it’s also jobseekers themselves who both mentally and physically benefit when they’re feeling confident.
As Ohio State University Professor Richard Petty told The Atlantic , “Confidence isn’t just feeling good about yourself; it’s the stuff that turns thoughts into action.” He goes on to explain how, when we’re confident about our own ability to succeed, we’re more motivated to take action. When we’re not, we often make the choice not to try.
So, for example, unconfident people may make the decision to leave parts of an interview performance test blank, to pass on challenging face-to-face questions, or to simply pull back from applying for jobs they don’t feel they’re fully qualified for. Women, a population group who have been proven to be less confident than their male counterparts, are particularly prone to this behavior.
Not to mention, our body’s supply of cortisol, a stress hormone, decreases when we’re powerful and confident, which is an obvious plus when trying to stay calm, cool, collected in an anxiety-inducing interview.
The good news is that confidence isn’t like blue eyes, or long limbs, or a healthy head of hair. It’s not a case of you either have it or you don’t. Confidence, like the perfect crème brûlée or a nothing-but-net free throw, can be created over time with proper practice and awareness.
How to Boost Your Confidence Before a Job Interview
Contrary to popular belief, you cannot fake it ‘til you make it. As Anderson found in his study, people can pick up on bravado and sniff out fake confidence thanks to body language like shifting eyes, a rising voice, and other non-verbal cues. Not to mention, and as Rucker substantiates, “If you really know you’re faking it – that actually is worse for you as the interviewee.”
What you can do, weirdly enough, is summon the confidence you’ve taken care to cultivate with quick hacks, like “partying in da club” and taking a long walk down memory lane (more on this later).
“These kinds of things help individuals get in the right mentality or mindset – they’re little parts of the preparation,” says Rucker. Though, he also cautions that, “We shouldn’t confuse deep preparation for these little preparation tactics. Preparation is critical – and it’s where I’d place my bet.”
1. Rock out to high-powered, bass-heavy music. In what might be one of the strangest studies on confidence and interviewing, another of Rucker’s studies found that jobseekers who listened to high-powered, bass-heavy music like Queen’s “ We Will Rock You ”, 50 Cent’s “ In Da Club”, and 2 Unlimited’s “Get Ready for This” reported feeling more powerful, which as noted earlier, is a key in interview performance success. Their recommendation? Rock out to a pumped-up play list just before going for your interview.
2. Take a walk down memory lane. The same study that made the connection between powerful feelings (like confidence) and interview success found that merely remembering or writing down a few lines about a personal experience of past that made you feel powerful could bring back those same feelings all over again.
3. Power pose. You may not be Superman or Wonder Woman, but if you stand like them just before an interview, you can summon a surge of superhero-like confidence. According to Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Amy J.C. Cuddy , simply holding high-power poses for as little as two minutes increases the amount of testosterone in your body (the hormone linked to dominance and power) and decreases the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone.
4. Preparation, preparation, preparation. Or as the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. While the first three tips will help you call on confidence in a crunch, preparation is what will help you build confidence from the bottom up. Investing energy and working hard at something may be the single best way to approach a challenge with confidence and power and to limit the triggers that come with the unknown.
5. Get support. Don’t be afraid to lean on friends, family, and your professional network. Everyone has people in their life who love them and admire them – so indulge prior to your interview and let these praise singers croon away. Sometimes an easy ego boost can go a long way.
The main point though – and Rucker drives this home repeatedly – is that as an individual you need to figure out what works for you and genuinely makes you feel empowered. Where some people might get a surge from loud music, others may not.
Bravado is Not the Answer
As bizarre as it sounds, genuinely confident people who are actually deluded about their own abilities do not come off as obnoxious or narcissistic to others. They, as Anderson points out, don’t brag and go on about how good they are at something. They rather exude more subtle traits, like the fact that they participate more, engage more frequently with others in a relaxed way, and offer more opinions. They also tend to speak in a calm manner, hold a lower vocal tone, and take up space in a particular way.
On the contrary, pretenders often overcompensate and do come off as narcissistic and obnoxious. For example, these people may interrupt speakers at inopportune times, may insert their opinion in conversations they don’t have any background on, and may still exhibit the nervous, anxious body language and tone that outwardly communicates their true feelings.
So, if you’re worried about which camp you fall into in the lead up to your job interview, start the task of boosting your confidence by preparing right with Interview Game Plan , our comprehensive program of coaching, video instruction and tips to help you get the job faster.