Q: What is the role of feeling powerful on a man's success?
A: In the July 2013 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, a number of researchers sought out to explore the effect of an applicant's subjective feeling of power on that applicant's performance in the job interview.
The article begins with a discussion of an Associate Professor at Harvard (Francesca Gino) who had once had a string of bad luck in applying for teaching jobs. Suddenly, her luck reversed and she got offers from Harvard, Wharton, Berkeley, and New York University.
- What changed? She tried a new pre-game warm-up routine: Before going into a job interview, Gino would write about a time she felt powerful.
What is power?
- For our purposes, power is a sense of feeling like one has mastery and control over one's environment.
- People who feel powerful are more optimistic about the future because they feel they wield control over their destinies.
Power in Job Interviews
- The authors of the study suggest that many people underperform in job interviews because they feel powerless.
- This makes sense: in a job interview, the interviewers hold all the cards. They determine whether an applicant gets the job or not. The applicant obviously needs the job or they wouldn't bother applying.
One possible way to make an applicant feel more powerful is through “priming.”
Priming is a technique that makes a person get into a certain state of mind through a usually simple stimulus.
The researchers tested a simple way to prime power and powerlessness: have a person write about a time they felt they had power, OR have a person write about a time they felt powerless.
Experiment 1: Job Application
- In one experiment, the researchers divided experimental participants into two groups. One group wrote about a time they felt they had power, the other group wrote about a time they felt powerless.
- Then, both groups were given an ad for a job position at a sales agency.
- Participants were then asked to imagine that they were applying for that job, and write an application for it. They wrote the application, put it in an envelope and gave it to a lab assistant.
- Then, a separate set of participants took the role of “interviewers.” Their job was to evaluate the applications and decide who to “hire.”
Participants who were “primed with power” were more likely to be “hired” than those who wrote about feeling powerless!
Simply thinking about a time they felt powerful somehow had enough impact on their job applications to result in better chances at being hired!
Interviewers also rated the “power” group as more self-confident.
Experiment 2: Job Interview
The researchers stepped up their experiment to see if their simple technique resulted in better “hiring” decisions in face-to-face interviews with experienced job interviewers.
This time, the experiment was framed as a mock business school interview.
Once again, participants were divided into groups: one who wrote a short essay about a time they felt powerful, and another who wrote about a time they felt powerless. A third group was given no essay to write.
However, instead of a written application, job applicants now had a face-to-face interview with an experienced job interviewer.
At the end of the interview, the interviewer indicated whether they would admit the candidate with a simple “yes” or “no.”
The interviewer also assessed the applicants for how persuasive they were.
- In the group with no essay, 47.1% of candidates were admitted. This means that, at baseline, interviewers tended to admit roughly half of candidates.
- However, in the “powerless” group, admission rates plummeted to 26.3%!
- And here's the kicker: in the “power” group, admission rates skyrocketed to 68.4%!
- Participants in the “power” group were also rated as more persuasive than those in the other groups.
The amazing thing about all the candidates in these experiments is that they were assigned to the groups randomly.
This means that their skills, intelligence, persuasiveness, etc. were randomly distributed. The only thing that was different among the three groups was the simple technique of writing about a time that they felt powerful OR powerless.
What is the moral of the story? Feeling powerful (or in other words, feeling like one has mastery and control over one's life) enhances a person's chances of success.
Power, mastery, and control
While the experimenters used a brief paragraph recalling past history to prime participants with a feeling of power, we could hypothesize that anything that gives men a feeling of mastery and control over their lives (whether it's a pre-game pep-talk or gaining mastery over one's appearance) can drastically alter their chances at success.
Lammers, J., Dubois, D., Rucker, D. D., & Galinsky, A. D. (2013). Power gets the job: Priming power improves interview outcomes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(4), 776-779. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002210311300036X