A new secret tactic for succeeding in job applications and interviews

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First came the power pose. Now we have the power essay. If you want to succeed in either an interview or in an application for a job, it will help if you spend some time in advance writing a short essay about a time when you felt powerful.

Recall an experience of power 

Academics from the University of Cologne, INSEAD, Northwestern University and Columbia Business School pinpointed the new tactic. In a paper* published in the Journal of Experiential Psychology, they concluded that candidates have a far greater chance of receiving job offers if they write 'power essays' before writing job applications.

In a first experiment, the researchers asked around 200 Dutch students to write a letter applying for a job as a '“Sales analyst at Corporate Clients & Solutions'. Before writing the application, some of the students were also asked to write an essay recalling a time when they felt empowered. Others were asked to write an essay recalling an experience in which they felt powerless. The rest weren't required to write a power/powerless essay at all. All the students were asked to imagine that they had the educational and experiential qualifications necessary for the job.

The researchers found that power-primed students were "significantly more likely" to receive a job offer than the students who wrote about powerlessness. They were also more likely to be perceived as self-confident.

In a second experiment, the researchers asked 55 French students to write similar power/powerless essays in advance of a pseudo-interview for a business school. The students who wrote 'power essays' before writing their job applications increased their likelihood of acceptance by 82% compared to the students who wrote no essays at all. They had a 162% greater chance of acceptance than peers who wrote powerless essays.

What constitutes a power essay? Penning some quick thoughts about a time you felt powerful would seem to suffice. "Merely asking participants to write a few lines about a time in which they had power increases their feeling of control," said the researchers.

Why do power essays work? The researchers postulated that it has something to do with the fact that powerlessness is, "central to job applicants' experience: they desire a job but depend upon interviewers to get a position."  The resulting feelings of insecurity can damage interview technique - unless mitigated with a preparatory power prime.

Power posing and pitfalls

The latest research echoes earlier research by Amy Cuddy, a sociologist at Harvard, who found that interview performance can also be boosted with preparatory power poses (sample photographs available here).

There are circumstances, however, in which the strategic power-prime might not work. The researchers at the University of Cologne et al cautioned against power essays which merely focus attention on the lack of powerful experiences in a candidate's life.

"If people struggle to find a convincing example when they were powerful, this difficulty in recalling an experience with power might undermine their feelings of power, producing worse outcomes than if they had not been asked to recall an experience with power," they cautioned.

*Power gets the job: Priming power improves interview outcomes

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