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My sister was recently job-hunting and got a call back from a firm after she’d already accepted a position elsewhere. Still, she decided to go to the interview just for practice, and when the big day finally rolled around, she realized she felt completely different than she had in the past before an interview. Because there was nothing riding on the outcome, she wasn’t nervous at all. The upshot? She totally killed it.
She answered tough questions without skipping a beat—for instance, when the hiring manager remarked that she’d job-hopped, she confidently defended her career path instead of apologizing or making excuses. She also asked for more money than she otherwise would have, backing up her salary request with details about why she deserved more than the average candidate. The hiring manager was impressed, and after two more rounds of interviews, she met with the CEO.
Her experience made me realize just how crucial a self-assured attitude is. In fact, research shows that confidence is a greater predictor of success than talent is. The problem, of course, is that the situations when you most need a boost also tend to be the most stress-inducing. Read on for tips to attain the kind of charismatic confidence that will help you navigate even the trickiest situations with ease.
1. Pitching a Client
The most stressful thing about meeting with a potential client is that you’re in unfamiliar territory. To amp your confidence in this high-anxiety scenario, try this technique from career expert and job coach Lea McLeod: Visualize yourself delivering the pitch. Really observe every detail, as though it were a movie screen. See yourself walking through the door and straightening your posture. Picture the people in the room. Watch yourself talking and moving back and forth as you click through your PowerPoint slides. “Going through practice runs in your mind will train your muscle memory,” she explains, “So when the time comes to really perform, you’ll feel much more comfortable in your skin.”
Also, inoculate yourself against one of the biggest confidence suckers: being asked a difficult or critical question. “If you anticipate unexpected or uncomfortable moments and prepare for them, you’ll be less likely to become flustered in the moment,” says McLeod. Brainstorm tough questions that might come up, and plan what to say if someone stumps you. (“That’s a terrific question. I wouldn’t want to give you misinformation, so let me come back to you tomorrow with a solid answer,” or some such.)
2. Asking for a Raise
Requesting money is never fun, but doing some prep work can give you a much-needed boost before having that loaded conversation. Take stock of specifically what you’ve achieved for the company—in terms of growth, sales, margins, and so on. “A raise should be tied to the value that you present an organization,” says McLeod. “And your confidence comes from knowing you’ve had a measurable impact.” Seeing how you’ve contributed will solidify why, exactly, you deserve a raise, and having solid evidence to support your proposal is much more convincing than simply asking for a higher salary because “it’s time.”
During the conversation with your boss, hone in on how you’ve improved the company’s bottom line. “Try something like, ‘Based on xyz evidence, I hope you’ll agree that I’ve had a positive impact. My proposal is that I should be higher up on the salary curve. What would I have to do to move my compensation from the 40% range to 60%?’” suggests McLeod.
3. Going to a Job Interview
The secret to acing an interview is to reframe the situation: “Knowing you’re being judged is off-putting, so remind yourself that a job interview is about more than receiving a stamp of approval from the hiring manager,” says McLeod. “You’re on a level playing field: Not only are you being evaluated, but equally, you’re evaluating the company.” Instead of going in with the attitude of, “I hope I get the job,” focus on whether accepting the position would be the right decision for you. You’ll naturally give off a more confident air and ask better questions.
Another smart strategy is to act like a consultant, rather than a job candidate. “Treat the conversation as though you were advising them on their business,” says McLeod. “Read everything you can about the company beforehand, and talk to the manager the way you would if you were already part of the team—discuss her thoughts on the approach a competitor is taking, or how shifts in the marketplace have affected business.” You’ll come across as knowledgeable, and they’ll be better able to project how you’d fit into the office culture.
4. Making a Big Purchase
Confidence is key if you’re planning to buy a home or a car—not only can salespeople sense uncertainty, but being wishy-washy makes you more likely to stumble into a decision you might regret. If you’re outside of your comfort zone, here’s the first step to achieving self-assurance: “Don’t fly blind,” urges certified life and business coach Kathy Nelson. “Do plenty of [research], ask people in the know who you trust for their ideas and opinions, and weigh all the pros and cons.”
Next, formulate a calculated course of action before going into negotiations. “Practical, not emotional, decisions are a hallmark of self-confidence,” explains New York-based psychotherapist Sheenah Hankin, author of Complete Confidence. “Decide what your bottom line price is, and do not talk yourself out of it.” If you go in with your mind made up, you’ll be less likely to be swayed by a charming salesperson or guilt-inducing selling techniques (“This is the last time this low price will be offered,” “We have another bid on this property, so act now”).
The more charisma you possess, the more priceless connections you’ll make at industry get-togethers. But how do you mentally gear up to approach complete strangers? “It can be nerve-wracking if you are thinking just about yourself and what you want to get from the experience—not to mention that you could come across as needy or greedy,” says Nelson. “Instead, go with the intention to give instead of to get.” Look at this as an opportunity to help out, whether by introducing someone to a useful good or service that you provide, connecting him or her to a key player who could boost his or her career path, or advising on a work dilemma. Extensive research, as detailed in University of Pennsylvania professor Adam Grant’s book Give and Take, has found that those who go out of their way for others experience greater success.
During the event, Nelson emphasizes setting a goal to meet at least three new people who you really click with (having a goal will keep you motivated to work the room). When striking up a conversation, “ask open-ended questions: What attracted you to this field? What do you do outside of work?” suggests Nelson. “Focus on finding out what you have in common.” That part is important, because as soon as you realize that you have shared ground with another person, be it that you used to work at the same company or you both have family in France, your relationship will naturally progress to a greater level of comfort—and as a result, your confidence will soar.
6. Dealing With a Frenemy
Confidence is all about being yourself, so the more honest you are, the more self-assured you’ll become. Whether a so-called friend consistently cancels at the last minute, or you find out she’s been gossiping behind your back, being straight with her is the best course of action. “In a calm tone of voice, simply tell her how you feel about an event that upsets you,” says Hankin. “Start with one sentence: ‘I feel (hurt, annoyed) when you (fill in the blank).’ Stop there and let her respond.”
If her reply is benign, it can instigate an open conversation. If she gets defensive, don’t back down. “Repeat the single sentence—even if you feel nervous or bad—and then say, ‘Thanks for listening,’” urges Hankin. “No justifications, explanations, or apologies are necessary.” Should she become truly rageful, just walk away or hang up. Nothing can be resolved until both of you cool down.
Still finding it hard to initiate such a loaded conversation? “Recall other moments when you acted bravely under similarly stressful circumstances,” suggests Nelson. “Then think about how you can apply what you learned here.” Remembering how you pulled it off successfully in the past will give you extra courage to face the present situation.
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