In today's competitive job market, hopeful employees want to know what qualities lead one job candidate to prevail over dozens of other capable contenders. If we consider the recent appointment of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the highest post in the Catholic Church, then humility, servility, and meekness may top the list. Numerous anecdotes about Pope Francis' unassuming nature have surfaced since his selection, including stories of him rejecting a chauffeur-driven car and images of him washing the feet of women. Perhaps the lesson here is that job seekers should reflect on their own relative insignificance, and strive to convey modesty, restraint, and vulnerability in the interview process.
This may be the right strategy — if you have a shot at the papacy. But if you are trying to secure a spot in the American business world, new research suggests that priming your powerful side is the way to go. A sense of power, it seems, increases your appeal both on paper and in person to those making hiring decisions.
It is already well established that people who feel empowered pay more attention to rewarding information, express themselves more freely when interacting with others, and experience more positive emotion. They also tend to be more persuasive, less susceptible to the influence of others, and more confident. Power breeds optimism, higher self-esteem, and action in pursuit of goals. By contrast, those lacking in perceived power experience a reduced sense of control and diminished access to resources or rewards, which in turn may lead to pessimism, depression, a withdrawal from activity, and poor health.
Joris Lammers and colleagues recently explored whether a sense of power, even if temporary, could improve success in the job interview process. In a series of studies, Lammers manipulated perceived power by asking participants to write about a prior personal experience in which they either had power (high power prime) or lacked power (low power prime). In one study, participants were primed for high or low power and then read a job ad for a sales analyst position. They were asked to assume that they possessed the necessary training and experience for the position, and to write an application letter. In a second study, participants were primed for high or low power, and then engaged in a 15 minute face-to-face mock interview for entrance into business school. This study also included a baseline group that received no prime manipulation before the interview.
In both studies, the candidates were evaluated by individuals who did not know about the power manipulation. In the first experiment, the raters had no interaction whatsoever with the participants, other than reading their applications. In that study, raters were significantly more inclined to offer the position to power-primed candidates than to those primed to feel powerless. In the second study, raters gave a yes or no judgment regarding acceptance of the candidates into business school, and also assessed how persuasive the candidates were during the interview. The high-power prime increased the likelihood of acceptance by 81 percent compared to the baseline (no prime) condition, and by 162 percent compared to the low-power prime condition. Not too surprisingly, high-power applicants were also perceived as more persuasive than either baseline or low-power applicants.