Expert strategies to show off your awesomeness
Author Jack Nasher studied decades of research on what really impresses decision-makers—including hiring managers.
Ever been passed over for a promotion you knew you deserved? Or applied for your dream job, only to hear later that it went to someone whose credentials and experience were no better than yours?
Maddening, wasn’t it?
In his new book Convinced!: How to Prove Your Competence & Win People Over, author Jack Nasher begins with the common-sense premise that it doesn’t matter how brilliant you are if no one realizes it. Talent and hard work matter, of course, but by themselves, they just aren’t enough. “If you bury yourself in work,” Nasher notes, “you’ll only be noticed when something goes wrong.” And who needs that?
Convinced! describes eight techniques for conveying competence effectively, based on decades of research and on what Nasher has learned in his own career so far. An attorney who holds master’s degrees in business and psychology, he teaches at Munich Business School and Stanford, and heads up the coaching firm Nasher Negotiation Institute. Earlier stints as a negotiator at the United Nations and top Wall Street law firm Skadden sparked his interest, Nasher says, in “the dynamics of how we read people, and how we win them over.”
Nasher believes most of us need to get better at what he calls “impression management”: the art of communicating our expertise to people who need to know about it—hiring managers, for instance.
Monster recently spoke with Nasher about how to use his methods to get ahead at work—or to find a new job.
Q. Self-confidence is crucial to your techniques, but what about shy people? Should they fake it?
A. I’m not suggesting anyone should try to change his or her personality. It’s a matter of learning different behavior. One thing that works is speaking in positive sentences. Look at politicians, for example. We always seem to elect people who make declarative statements, with no ambiguity, even when their political track record is weak or non-existent.
What that means at work or in a job interview is, first, clear, concise speech. Then, don’t be modest about your core competencies. Practice describing what you’ve accomplished without hesitation, and without using qualifiers like “pretty,” as in “pretty good.”
Another technique is what psychologists call “priming.” Before going into an interview, think about everything good you’ve done—goals you met, achievements you’re proud of. The power of positive thinking is real. Filling your mind with upbeat thoughts will automatically make you more confident.
Q. The book includes a fascinating chapter on body language. Could you give us a few examples?
A. Nonverbal communication makes an indelible impression—often not even conscious—on the person you’re speaking to. Research on this suggests that the ideal distance between you and the other person is 4 or 5 feet, no closer or farther. Maintain eye contact while you’re talking, but break it when you listen. If you can, stand at a slight angle from the person you’re speaking to. Do not smile constantly. Interestingly, the most effective body language differs a bit for men and women. In a job interview, for instance, if you’re a woman, sit in a slightly tense way. If you’re a man, sitting in a more relaxed manner makes a better impression.
Always remember that everything about you sends a message, whether you intend it to or not. So make sure everything that surrounds you—your shoes, your clothes, your briefcase if you carry one—speaks well of you. Even your pen! Don’t carry a cheap plastic one to an interview.
Q. Let’s say someone has a failure, or a firing, in his or her background. What’s the best way to approach that in an interview?
A. Almost everyone has some sort of perceived disadvantage, whether in vying for a promotion or looking for a new job. Not only that, but hiring managers are terribly afraid to make a mistake and hire the wrong person, so they tend to look for negative information—that is, for reasons to rule you out.
So ask yourself honestly beforehand, why wouldn’t they promote you, or hire you? Then address that directly. Let’s say, for example, you worry that your age might be a drawback. Counter that by talking about how active you are, how flexible, and how much you enjoy mentoring younger people. Turn a weakness into a strength. Likewise, a failure or a firing probably taught you something important. Be ready to bring up what happened before you’re asked about it, and what you learned that makes you a stronger candidate now than you were before.
Q. How can you get off to a strong start in a new role?
A. It’s really helpful to do something psychologists call “framing.” The results of any effort are determined by three elements: difficulty, luck, and effort. So you want to manage others’ expectations of you by framing your description of what you’re going to do. Point out any difficult circumstances ahead of time—a barely-adequate budget, say, or an extremely tight deadline—while also expressing confidence that you can succeed anyway. Highlighting challenges at the outset is much different than mentioning them later, which just comes across as making excuses.
Whatever you do, never minimize your accomplishments by saying something like, “I was just lucky.” Even if that’s partly true, it’s a sure way to undermine other people’s perception of your competence.
Q. What if, despite your best efforts, you don’t get promoted or hired? Should you give up?
A. No, at least not right away. An odd feature of the human mind is something called “option attachment,” which is sometimes called “buyer’s remorse.” If you have a choice between A and B, the moment you pick A, B starts to look better. In a work situation, if someone decides against you, you will immediately look like the better choice. Use that. Go and meet with the person who made the decision. I’ve often seen people who do this come away with an offer for an even better opportunity than the one they were seeking. It’s certainly worth a try.
Make your value stand out
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Anne Fisher has been writing about career and workplace trends and topics since 1996. She is a columnist for Fortune.com and the author of If My Career’s on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map?