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A shortcut to your best self? New study finds there's a really simple way to improve your job interview chances

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You felt it tilt into dangerous territory when you got her name wrong right at the start and now you've spent an excruciating hour fumbling, mumbling and completely failing to dredge up the most basic of reasons why you'd be good at the job you're interviewing for.

You sit in a cold sweat, waiting for the nightmare to be over so you can ceremoniously burn your CV, wondering what happened. Where was that calm, composed you of yesterday? The one in control and capable and ready to achieve?

Well, we can't help you with the interviews that have already gone up in flames (sorry), but you should be encouraged to know that results of a new study suggest there's a shortcut to the best version of yourself: receiving compliments before an interview could actually make you perform better.

interview

However bad an interview is, try to resist the urge to actually hide

The recently published paper from Harvard Business School researchers described the process as 'best-self activation' (that is, someone prompts you to remember yourself at your best) and looked into how it influences emotions, physiology and employment relationships.

The research says: “We developed theory about how best-self activation can lead to both immediate and long-term outcomes [...] In two lab experiments and a field experiment in a global consulting firm, we tested the hypotheses by offering people reflections on times they were at their best.

“Results confirmed that best-self activation inspired improvements in people’s emotions, resistance to disease, resilience to stress and burnout, creative problem solving, performance under pressure, and relationships with their employer.”

nervous

Reading a positive note before a job interview could help you ace it

By offering participants these positive reflections from friends, colleagues and significant others just before a mock job interview, the team found that the ego boost from being reminded of past success was more useful than a warm, fuzzy glow – in a sample of 123 volunteers, those given notes from people they were close to actually performed better than those given neutral messages.

Those participants also performed better than people who'd written their own notes of encouragement, indicating that recognition by others is more effective: “Results also revealed that best-self activations are more effective in creating improvements when they feature information from one’s social network rather than personal reflections”.

The paper gave an example of a note, which read: “So many people, particularly women, are afraid to be the smartest person in the room. You are a wonderful role model for all bright, quick, and articulate women in the world, showing that it is more than ok [sic] to be clever and to allow people to see that you are smart. I can think of a time when you won the argument with class, and I found it inspirational.”

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“Dear Mabel, I know you'll be fine because you're so good at organising all your desk letters. Oh.”

Another experiment tested whether there was similar benefit to other situations, such as solving puzzles or coming up with creative solutions, and found “best-self activation improved participants' positive emotions and physiology, buffered negative physiological arousal associated with stress-inducing tasks, and increased problem-solving performance under pressure”.

As mentioned earlier, the paper also pointed out that there seem to be health benefits too, citing previous research showing that social connectedness boosts the immune response, and concluded that people receiving compliments from someone in their social circle reap benefits in terms of health and stress.

So there you have it: getting friends or family to scribble you a complimentary note before your next job interview is not only a nice thing to read, but good for your career prospects and even your health. You're doing great, by the way. Keep it up. 

Images: Thinkstock, Rex Features

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