Positive thinking: top tips for overcoming self-doubt

It's coming up to Christmas and - for celebrities at least - 'tis the season to publish your autobiography.

The writers - from comedians to politicans - all seem to ooze confidence. In Decision Points, published last month, former US president George W Bush declared he lost no sleep over the torture of prisoners. Former British PM Tony Blair tells readers in A Journey that he still believes he did the right thing in invading Iraq.

But, for everyday workers, a lack of confidence can mean missing out on an important deal, failing at an interview, or missing out on deals with clients.

Karen Poulton, graduate recruitment & resourcing manager at Cushman & Wakefield, picks up on self-confidence through potential employees' body language and their ability to communicate concisely and appropriately during a job interview. Poulton says nerves are always taken into consideration, but adds: "As part of the role, the individual would need to demonstrate credibility under pressure, as we are a client-facing organisation."

In an unstable market she has found that graduates are still understandably apprehensive about prospects for the industry, but says: "The successful applicants will inevitably be the stronger individuals who are also very focused and determined to succeed."

Cushman & Wakefield offers coaching and training to help staff for whom lack of confidence is an issue.

Jonathan Krogdahl, head of real estate at the Curzon Partnership, is also in the business of recruiting - for executive roles. He describes confidence as a "nebulous thing" and advises: "Too much of it can be seen as arrogance and can, in fact, be an extreme turn-off."

Personal style

There is also the issue of company culture to consider - one organisation's confidence may be taken as arrogance elsewhere. Krogdhal advises candidates to adapt their personal style accordingly.

On the other hand, he acknowledges that a lack of self-confidence is equally unattractive to an employer. He argues: "Of course, an individual needs to be confident in a sales-facing role, but even in a back-office function they need to be confident enough to deal with the up-front part of the office."

With redundancies and knockbacks ocurring throughout the industry, the past couple of years have done more to dent self-confidence than most - and once damaged, can be hard to repair. Krogdahl says: "I've seen it at senior level too. It doesn't affect people less the higher up they are - they just know how to hide it better."

Creating the right impression

So how exactly would he define confidence? Krogdahl suggests that being clear about what you can and can't bring to a role and having a good knowledge of the company you are hoping to work for will help create the right impression.

Just like finding a partner, sometimes the less someone shows they want the job, the more interested the employer becomes. An individual who seems happy in their current role can often become attractive to an interviewer - a classic case of wanting what you can't have. Krogdahl says: "The employer then starts to sell the opportunity to the candidate - whereas the more desperate the candidate comes across, the less appealing they will be."

Despite the larger numbers of men in property, he generally finds women more confident. Krogdahl attributes this to the idea that career-orientated women want to progress, as opposed to men who sometimes simply assume they will. He explains: "Men can often be motivated by having bills to pay, whereas females in the industry may be more motivated for career reasons. The past couple of years have also put more pressure on men who have families to provide for."

Poulton has found that the question of confidence according to sex depends on the individual and the area in which they work, but notes: "On the graduate side, males often come across as more self-assured of their abilities."

So, what common triggers dent self-confidence in the workplace?

Nicky Moran, a communication coach with learning and events consultancy Pearlcatchers, helps clients to build confidence and communication skills and explains: "If you are in a job not suited to your skills or values, the likelihood is your confidence will be affected. Also, the work culture may have an element of fear that drives people to feel paranoid and fearful about speaking up."

When it is difficult for a subordinate to challenge the status quo, Morgan advises finding like-minded individuals to create a support network, where they can discuss concerns and offer each other solutions. She says: "Lack of confidence can be a personal trait. Confidence is something that is developed by self-awareness, assertiveness and building a more positive relationship with yourself."

The good news is that confidence is something that we can all do something about. There are plenty of great books, coaches and ways to overcome confidence barriers. It's a matter of taking positive action.

Nicky Moran, communication coach, explains:

A lack of confidence is surprisingly common and can rear its head in high-pressured situations such as interviews. Our sneaky self-doubts may include feelings of not being good enough, fearing that you'll be found out as a fraud or imagining all the other candidates will be more experienced, smarter or more suitable for the job. 

• Accept that such self-doubting thoughts are probably going through the minds of all the other candidates and that it's absolutely normal to feel this way. The flip side is that the interviewer wants someone for that job, so they actually want you to succeed. 
• Get practical: start by taking a blank piece of paper and writing at the top of it: "Reasons I am perfect for this job" and "situations and skills where I am at my best". 
• Once you have come up with answers, take time to keep adding to the list and refer to it as often as possible before the interview. Replace the doubting voice with positive reminders of your skills and expertise. 
• Research the job in depth. Remember the fantastic Apprentice interviews, when most of the candidates reveal their true colours? To build up rapport and credibility, research the company and speak to the people who do similar jobs. 
• Call your interviewers in advance to ask them for more information about the job and their expectations of you on the day of the interview. For example, would they like you to bring examples of previous work? If you establish a connection in advance, it gives the impression that you're keen, proactive and that this is the way you would be in the job itself. 
• Prepare thoroughly. Interview nerves come through when we feel out of our depth. Having a clear idea of the company and what it requires will help you to feel more comfortable. Dress well, as looking the part will go a long way in creating a great first impression. 
• Be aware of your body language. When we lack confidence, posture often collapses as we lose status. Stand tall, go for a brisk walk before the interview and take some deep breaths.

(Published 04/12/2010)

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