The fact of the matter is that hiring decisions aren’t just based on what we say. They’re based on how we say it and what we do—our non-verbal posturing, or body language. If one is shaking from anxiety it doesn’t exactly paint a confident picture. And unfortunately, a closed, anti-social posture can affect how others perceive us during social evaluations like a job interview, a school presentation, or any other situation where we are the centre of attention.
Then the solution is simple, right? Just act extra confident during the job interview. Open yourself up, put your hands behind your head and your feet on the desk, and bam! You’re hired!
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. There’s a status hierarchy that needs to be respected in these kinds of situations, and in social encounters with a large power differential (like between an interviewer and an interviewee), mimicking the high-status postures of your interviewer actually makes them like you less. We would be violating social norms if we waltzed into an interview acting like a hotshot. So, what should we do to help our chances of landing that job?
Recent research by Cuddy and colleagues proposes a solution to this posturing conundrum, and it’s called “preparatory power posing.” The researchers theorized that adopting “high-power” poses—expansive, open postures, like Superman’s iconic pose—before a stressful job interview could positively impact how others see us. There are several known benefits to adopting “high-power” poses, such as boosting confidence, raising self-esteem, improving mood, and decreasing feelings of fear. These power poses affect us biologically; they raise the levels of hormones associated with dominant behaviours and decrease stress hormones. This results in us appearing more approachable, enthusiastic, and most importantly, calm.
Researchers placed participants into one of two groups. Each group stood in either high-power positions or low-power positions immediately before a mock job interview, without being told why. Participants in the high-power group were told to stand with their hands on their hips and their feet spread apart. Participants in the low-power group were asked to stand with their legs crossed over and their arms wrapped around their torso. Participants held their pose for one minute, and then were told they would be giving a five-minute speech about why they were qualified for their dream job to two evaluators posing as interviewers. After preparing what they were going to say while maintaining their high- or low-power postures for five more minutes, the interviewers walked in and participants were allowed to stand normally while delivering their speech.
Evaluators rated participants on their overall performance (whether the interview was good or awful) and hireability (whether they would hire the participant). Two different evaluators rated participants on the content of their speech (whether they appeared intelligent and qualified) and their body language (whether they were confident, enthusiastic, or awkward).
The nonverbal presence of the participants differed depending on whether they had been adopting a high-power pose or low-power pose prior to their interview. Those who had been standing like Superman appeared better able to maintain their composure, more confident, and presented more captivating and enthusiastic speeches than those who had been standing like a proverbial “shrinking violet.” High-power posers were rated as performing better overall and were judged as more hireable than low-power posers. And surprisingly, the content of the speech didn’t affect the ratings.
The most important thing to take into account is that these results occurred because participants altered their own sense of power prior to the interview, and this changed their nonverbal presence during the interview. In short, posing in a particular way before an interview affects how others perceive you, even if they weren’t there to witness the power posing itself, because it alters your body language. Neither the high-power or low-power group differed on how they behaved during the interview itself, but adopting the preparatory power poses gave them the psychological and physiological benefits associated with being in a position of high status without risking the negative judgment associated with acting powerful during an interview.
So what’s the take-home message? Stand like Superman for a few minutes before your job interview or class presentation. I’m not kidding. You may find yourself calmer and subconsciously radiating confidence, which is sure to make a good impression!
Cuddy, A., Wilmuth, C., Yap, A., & Carney, D. (2015). Preparatory power posing affects nonverbal presence and job interview performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100, 1286-1295. doi:10.1037/a0038543