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Want that job? Just recall a time you felt powerful!

Monday, June 3, 2013
posted by Rita Handrich

so-try-that-power-poseWe’ve written about striking a ‘power pose in the past here. It was in relation to how to manage your appearance in court but now we have new research that says something much more odd and maybe even a little bit spooky. You don’t even have to be present for an interviewer to see you more positively if you recall a time you felt powerful prior to preparing a resume and cover letter. Keep reading– it’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Researchers from Germany and the United States did two separate experiments to examine the effect on the interview process of recalling a time you felt powerful or powerless. Here’s a tip: Don’t think about times you felt powerless while interviewing or preparing a cover letter!

Experiment 1 used 177 Dutch students (142 women, 35 men with an average age of 20). They were asked to write about an experience “in which they either had power or lacked power”. They were told this was a “warm-up task that helped participants become familiar with writing about themselves”. Next they were given an actual job ad and asked to assume they were qualified and to write an application letter for the position. They gave the completed letter to a lab assistant in a sealed envelope and then completed a 6 item questionnaire to see how powerful, influential, important, dependent, subordinate or powerless they felt as they wrote their letters. An interviewer (of the same gender as the applicant but unaware of the experimental manipulation or hypotheses) read the letters and then said how likely they would be to offer the applicant a position (on a 9-pt Likert scale ranging from ‘not at all’ to ‘very much’).

Power-primed applicants felt more powerful than those who were asked to write about situations in which they felt powerless. They were also more likely to be offered the job by the interviewer. In other words, thinking about an experience of power before preparing their application letter made it more likely the interviewer would offer the applicant a job.

So the researchers wondered if the effect would also work in face-to-face interview situations. For Experiment 2, they recruited 55 French undergraduates with an average age of 20 (no gender information was offered). The participants had a 15-minute mock interview for business school admission. Prior to their interviews, they received the same instruction to write about an experience “in which they either had power or lacked power” as in Experiment 1. These participants were told the writing task was to assess their handwriting. A third group (the control group) was given no “handwriting” task and thus was neither powerfully nor powerlessly primed. Interviewers were unaware of the experimental hypotheses and were asked after the interview to answer Yes/No on the question of whether they would admit the applicant to business school. (While the authors do not specify that the interviewers were actual business school professors, they do mention the interviewers were ‘experts’). After the interview, the interviewers also rated the applicant on how convincing and how persuasive they were during the interview.

In the control condition (no power prime), interviewers accepted 47.1% of the applicants. In the powerful condition, they accepted 68.4% while in the low-power condition, acceptance rate fell to 26.3%. “Stated differently, power increased the odds of acceptance by 81% compared to control and by 162% compared to low-power.”  Further, high-power applicants were seen as more persuasive than both controls and low-power applicants.

The researchers believe the power-prime increases perception of the interviewee’s “soft skills” (i.e., interpersonal skills). They cite research saying leaders emerge due to higher levels of soft skills than their colleagues. “The current research seems to offer hope to millions of job and school applicants around the world — tap into your inner sense of confidence by recalling an experience with power.” The authors comment that if you have few experiences with power and thus struggle to identify those memories–this sort of strategy could backfire on you!

This research has multiple potential applications. Whether you are preparing for the courtroom, an interview, or filling out application materials for a new position–your internal confidence as you engage in these activities is a powerful positioner. In essence, we communicate the level of our belief in ourselves, and it affects the opinions of those around us. You will likely see much higher success rates as you take the time to power-prime yourself before interviewing, presenting, or preparing an application letter for a new position. Now this is research you can put to good use!

Lammers, J., Dubois, D., Rucker, D., & Galinsky, A. (2013). Power gets the job: Priming power improves interview outcomes Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49 (4), 776-779 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2013.02.008

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