Don’t Stand in Your Own Way: The Definitive Guide to Self-Confidence

By: Reesa Staten of Robert Half

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” 
― Henry David Thoreau

April’s thought-provoking blog entry from Joi Gordon explored the relationship between gender and confidence in the workplace, noting that structural support of the unique needs of working women may play an even larger part than gender in determining whether someone reaches her full potential.

I’d like to stay on the subject of confidence because it’s an important one. In the business world, confidence can propel you to the top of the list of contenders for a job opening. The absence of it weakens your chances of being hired, no matter how qualified you are.

Whether you are looking for a new job, hoping to advance in your current one, or just want to be taken more seriously at work, a little self-assurance goes a long way.

In the course of a career, many things can chip away at our confidence, such as a job layoff, long period of unemployment or being passed over for a promotion. But confidence breeds confidence. If you can maintain your stride — and your positive attitude — in the face of these challenges, you’ll show others they can place their confidence in you.

Research has shown that women often have a more difficult time with this than men do.  An often-cited internal study by tech giant HP found that women applied for jobs at HP only if they were 100 percent qualified. Men, on the other hand, were likely to put their hat in the ring if they met just 60 percent of the hiring criteria. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in us, or the tendency to follow the rules to the letter. For many women, myself included, it doesn’t occur to us that some rules are actually guidelines. The confident person seizes the opportunity to ask for an exception to the rule if he or she can make a strong case for it. In other words, if the job fits, fight for it.

As a manager, I frequently make hiring decisions, and I regularly evaluate an individual’s readiness to take on new assignments or increased responsibilities.  Aptitude is always the first thing I look for, but self-assurance is a close second. Talent and confidence are a powerful combination.

Two books published in the last few years address the confidence equation head on: Lean In. Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know by journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. Both books discuss the unique challenges many women in the workplace face as they pursue leadership roles. And, in many cases, we are our own worst enemies.

How can you increase your self-confidence? Start by setting yourself up for success. Here are five suggestions:

  1. Don’t assume there is someone more qualified than you for the job. It’s easy to talk yourself out of applying for a promotion or a new job. You may tell yourself it’s not worth your effort because someone out there surely is more qualified. But what if you’re wrong? What if you are the right one for the job? You won’t know unless you put yourself out there.
  2. Work on your presentation skills. Make sure you are communicating with confidence, whether you are sharing your ideas in an informal setting or speaking before a group. Can you make your case articulately, concisely and with passion? Demonstrating self-assurance inspires others to want to follow you.
  3. Don’t assume others know how great you are. I have a friend who applied for a promotion at her company. She lamented that during the interview when she shared her many accomplishments with the hiring manager, he was surprised. He had not realized how hard she had been working and all she was contributing. Make sure you are getting credit for your good work so managers think of you first when new opportunities surface.
  4. Start small. Little victories are still victories. Volunteer for small projects at work and give 100 percent of your attention to them. By completing these tasks successfully, you’ll build up the confidence to take on more. And you’ll be showing others you can deliver exceptional results. Positive feedback from coworkers and customers is a proven confidence-builder.
  5. Walk the talk. Make sure your words are backed up by action. Being overly boastful or making false claims is just as damaging to your career as a lack of confidence. Always present the best version of you — and stay true to yourself in the process.

The next time you feel your confidence wavering, don’t let it get the best of you. You would be surprised at how even a little self-assurance will open doors for you at work and in your personal life. You have everything to gain from reaching for that next opportunity — and so much to lose if you let fear stand in your way.

Reesa Staten is senior vice president of Corporate Communications and director of workplace research for Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. Staten has been writing job search advice for more than 15 years and oversees Robert Half’s extensive workplace research program. Write to her at [email protected].


Leave a Reply