Stand up tall. Give a firm handshake. Maintain eye contact.
These are age-old tips given to job seekers in order to appear more confident. While it’s not bad advice, poor posture isn’t the only thing that can have a negative effect on first impressions.
New research from Fairygodboss found that 41% of hiring professionals list confidence as a top trait they look for in job candidates.
Unfortunately, confidence doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Many of us have to work hard to appear self-assured. And of course, inner confidence is not always obvious based on how we carry ourselves. That said, sometimes our choices can directly impact how confident we appear to hiring managers.
Here are three things social-impact and nonprofit professionals should try to stop doing to be viewed as more confident, whether it’s at the office or in an interview:
Limiting your wardrobe
Imagine a confident professional. What are they wearing? Chances are, you pictured someone in a dark-colored “power pantsuit.” Yet, the research shows that a more traditional, conservative look doesn’t always result in the perception of confidence.
Fairygodboss showed hiring professionals various images of professional women and were then asked to choose three words from a list of adjectives that they felt best described each woman. This list included words like professional, reliable, confident, lazy, and cold. Researchers also asked the respondents which qualities they prefer to see an a candidate. It's not a tremendous surprise that 42% said they wanted a confident job seeker; it’s which candidates hiring managers saw as confident that was a particularly surprising.
Many respondents said they would choose to hire candidates who stepped away from the traditional outfit. Here’s the percentage of respondents who described the following women as confident:
- Woman in a bright blue suit: 71%
- Woman in a skirt: 56%
Both of these women ranked higher for confidence than a woman wearing a dark-colored jacket.
Professionals don’t have to stifle their sense of style to exude confidence. While it’s still important to dress appropriately, nonprofit professionals can have fun with their outfits. For example, if your lucky pair of shoes are purple, use them as the base of your clothing choices. This will help you feel more relaxed and genuine during an interview. It will also show that you are confident in your personal style, which is important when looking for a non-corporate job.
Forcing a smile
Fairygodboss research also compared how hiring managers viewed women with different facial expressions. Surprisingly, smiling did not make women appear significantly more confident. Only 50% of respondents said a smiling woman seemed confident. This placed her ninth out of 15 for the trait.
This is great news for people who are not naturally or overly cheerful. There’s no need to spend the entire interview straining to smile. Avoid this by not over-rehearsing your responses. When someone rehearses what they’re going to say and when they’re going to laugh, it comes off as forced, and interviewers will often see right through you.
It’s more important to be friendly and sincere in a way that’s natural. You can do this by approaching an interview as you would a conversation. Try the following:
- Ask the interviewers questions about what they love about the company.
- Conduct advanced research to see if you can identify any shared interests or common ground.
- Talk about your professional passions. This will allow you to feel more at ease and engaged.
Hiding your personality
In our survey, we included an image of a woman with visible tattoos on her arms. Unexpectedly, 55% of hiring managers described this woman as confident. This placed her within the top five among all 15 women for confidence.
This isn’t to say that you need tattoos to appear confident. What it does say is that when you’re true to your personality, hiring managers appreciate it. They see you as comfortable in your own skin.
The trick is finding an appropriate way to do this without appearing unprofessional. For each individual, this will be different. Consider the following steps:
- Identify what—other than just your professional background—makes you the best choice for the role. Creativity? An assertive nature? Your tendency to be highly organized?
- Determine how to best express those traits during the interview.
- Think of professional anecdotes that show who you are and what you're capable of.
Confidence comes from within. Unfortunately, hiring managers may often fall back on appearance and superficial first impressions to assess a candidate's self-assurance. But by avoiding these three things, you can remain true to yourself and it may just help you land the job.
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About the Author | Georgene Huang is obsessed with improving the workplace for women. She’s the CEO and Co-founder of Fairygodboss, a marketplace where professional women looking for jobs, career advice and the inside scoop on companies meet employers who believe in gender equality. Previously she ran the enterprise business at Dow Jones and was a Managing Director at Bloomberg Ventures. She is a graduate of Cornell and Stanford Universities.