Harvard Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy has been called the highest priestess of self-confidence for the self-doubters.

She gives two important tips to help prepare for one of the toughest challenges that any self-doubter can face, a job interview: use power positions to boost your self-confidence and remember to show your warmth, not only your competence.

First impressions are definitely important. The more we learn about our brain, the more we understand that we do not form our opinions after careful rationalization, but rather carefully rationalize our first opinions. That is to say that we form opinions based on initial impressions and intuitions and, only then, do we search for data to support our first opinion; once we find enough support, we tend to rest our case. We are poor “devil’s advocates” of ourselves.

So how do we make a positive first impression in such a critical situation like a job interview? According to prof. Amy Cuddy we can exemplify the interest of the interviewer with two questions:

Can I respect this person?
Can I trust this person?

We come to respect someone based on their wisdom, knowledge, competence and breath of experiences, in a nutshell, based on facts.
We come to trust someone based on their honesty, openness, ability to listen, vulnerability, genuine interest in others, generosity and warmth, in a nutshell based on the positive vibes of their personality, or presence.

Unfortunately, when we prepare for a job interview, we often spend more time rehearsing about the first question than the second. At the actual interview, we may play our “factual cards” more than our “warmth cards”. We usually focus on showing competence, profiling expertise, positioning key skills, displaying adequately professional image, and generally reassuring the rational side of the enquirer. Even when we may decide to play the “I am very interested in you and your company” card, we may do so as a task rather than out of genuine curiosity (since stress and anxiety usually mask our genuine interests).

When we play our fact-based performance without taking care of the more personal side, we are more likely to get a negative response that sounds like this: “thanks, this was impressive, we shall contact you”, followed by a call or mail with a polite acknowledgment of our outstanding curriculum, and vague excuses as to why we are actually not getting the job.

Sometimes the “vague excuses” are real (e.g. organizational changes making internal candidates suddenly available, alternative candidate with a more exact match of requirements, or an internal disagreement about the very requirements); yet many study seem to indicate that more often than not the real reason (often unconscious and usually unspoken), the key motivator for choosing or rejecting a candidate is strongly linked to the “trust” aspect.

Prof. Cuddy points out the fundamental role of “warmth” in the context of conveying trustfulness. Warmth is that human quality that has self-confidence, optimism, genuine interest in others, passion, and authenticity, as key ingredients. It is also condensed in her concept of “presence”. What is especially important in Cuddy’s concept of “presence” is that we can learn it. We do not need to be naturally inclined to being optimistic and generously interested in others; we all have these human traits, we just need to learn to unlock or access them. So here are the two tips:

UNLOCK YOUR POSITIVE ENERGY. Any stressful situation like a job interview will generate some unconscious defensive mechanism that will affect our posture, tone of voice and degree of attention; to counteract this negative stress, Cuddy suggest to use POWER POSES. Test after test has shown that we can unlock our positive energy by taking an open “winning” position and holding it for two minutes in private, before going to the job interview. In this way we increase our self-confidence and focus, and tend to give our very best smiles, handshakes, answers and listening skills.
ACCESS YOUR GENUINE SELF. Second, we need to stop worrying about the impression we make and shift our focus to being ourselves, true, honest, open and even vulnerable; this is a key step to liberate the captivating energy that can make us happy and satisfied about ourselves in the first place, then contagiously attractive as a result. Instead of trying to convince others that we are reliable, competent, likeable and trustable, we need to learn to like and trust ourselves in the first place. Some of the most useful ways to access our genuine self and like ourselves are:
Transform nervousness into excitement. This is probably Cuddy’s most revolutionary suggestion. When we feel nervous, rather than telling ourselves to calm down (not effective!) we can more easily transform this high level of alertness into excitement, i.e. telling ourselves that we are excited about the challenge.
Live our values. Reminding ourselves of our values before a stressful situation (i.e. by writing them in a form before an interview) seems to help deal with the tast with less anxiety and more flare.
Expand, taking more space: when we appropriate more space or create more space around us, we feel better about ourselves and tend to be more successful (e.g. standing, moving, sitting with a straight posture, looking around, or spreading things on the desk, rather than hunching over a smart phone, never looking up and keeping to a small corner).

Importantly, although these “tips” can often be effective “right away”, their continuous practice can make us more sustainably confident, and hence successful. In Cuddy’s words, we need to “fake it until we make it”.

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Amy Cuddy’s TED TALK
Amy Cuddy’s book “Presence”

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