Psychological Science at Work


The indispensable research blog on the science of the modern workplace, covering everything from leadership and management to the behavioral, social, and cognitive dynamics behind performance and achievement.


What to Remember Before a Job Interview

dv1080001It’s easy to feel nervous and awkward when applying for a new job. Unless you’re already working and a potential employer is trying to poach you, you’re essentially at the mercy of a recruiter looking at your résumé and talking with you about your qualifications. That can instill a profound sense of vulnerability.

But new research has identified a possible strategy that can help job candidates improve their confidence and communication skills during the interview process. An international team of scientists recently found that you can more effectively impress recruiters by merely recalling a time when you felt powerful.

It should come as no surprise that confidence, optimism, and self-possession are assets in a job interview. It turns out that power arms us with these same attributes. Feeling powerful not only makes us feel – and appear – more competent, but it also lowers the stress hormone cortisol, which helps keep our nerves from derailing the interview.

In two experiments, a team led by Joris Lammers, a professor of social psychology at University of Cologne, Germany, hypothesized that priming applicants to feel more powerful might improve their performance in applying for a job.  Joining Lammers in the study were marketing professor David Dubois, (INSEAD, France), and psychologist scientists Derek Rucker (Northwestern University) and Adam Galinsky (Columbia Business School).

In the first experiment, the researchers had a group of Dutch college students write about an experience in which they either had power or lacked power. Next, they were given a job advertisement, and were directed to assume that they had the relevant education and job experience. Each participant wrote an application letter for the position, tucked it in a close envelope, and handed it to a lab assistant.  The assistants then handed the letters to randomly assigned interviewers who had been matched on gender. The interviewers, who were not told about the power manipulation, were asked to read the letter and indicate how likely they would be offer the job to the candidate.

As predicted, interviewers were more likely to offer a job to people who had been primed to feel powerful before writing their application letter than those who were primed to feel less powerful. The interviewers rated those letters as exhibiting more self-confidence than the others.

In a second experiment, a group of French undergraduates were given a similar priming exercise as used in Experiment 1, although some of the participants weren’t asked to complete the task; they served as a control or baselines condition.  The researchers then had the participants undergo 15-minute mock interviews for admission to business schools.  After each interview, recruiters reported whether they would admit the applicant, and assessed the applicants’ persuasiveness.   The researchers expected that the power-primed participants would experience more success because the recruiters saw them as more persuasive.

Indeed, power-primed applicants were seen as more convincing compared to the others. And interviewers accepted roughly 68 percent of applications from participants in the high-power condition, compared to 47 percent in the baseline condition and 26 percent in the low-power condition.

The research team cautioned that in some situations, trying to recall a time in which you had power can backfire – if you simply can’t remember a time they felt powerful it may undermine your confidence, they report in an article published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

“Overall, we propose the power primes can help applicants in job interview settings,” they said, “provided they have at least some experiences with having power and can easily access those experiences.”

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