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Presence Will Help You Get an Internship

By Siyu Wu

September 13, 2016

Interviewing season has arrived, which means every internship or job-seeking individual is doing preparation of some kind to show their best self during an interview. Commonly, this preparation is focused solely on developing one’s technical knowledge and company know-how. But as Amy Cuddy suggests in her book Presence, sometimes what you know is less important than how you present what you know. So to land that ideal internship or job? Read Amy Cuddy’s book. But if you don’t have time for that, go watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk and check out these top takeaways from her book that can help you better your personal presence during an interview, and on the job.

What is “presence”?

“Presence stems from believing in and trusting yourself - your real, honest feelings, values, and abilities. That’s important, because if you don’t trust yourself, how can others trust you? … We all face daunting moments that must be met with poise if we want to feel good about ourselves and make progress in our lives. Presence gives us the power to rise to these moments.” - Amy Cuddy, Presence

In other words, presence is how you stay attuned to yourself and to comfortably express yourself in the best way. It manifests as a sense of genuine confidence without arrogance, and occurs when your different elements of self are aligned.

Why does “presence” matter?

Lakshmi Balachandra, then a Boston College doctoral student, conducted research on venture capitalist pitches. She found that the pitches that received investment money were not necessarily those with the most well-thought out ideas, but rather those presented with the most confidence, comfort level, and passionate enthusiasm. In other words, they exuded a sense of presence.

This presence can take you far during an interview, and even in meetings or projects while on the job. Believing in your own story and showing that self-confidence gives your counterpart - be it the interviewer, a supervisor, or some colleagues - reason to believe in you, and to choose you. 

How do I get “presence”?

It may seem that some people naturally have a wonderful presence, but fear not - developing a sense of presence is possible for anyone. Amy Cuddy outlines many strategies for achieving a better presence, and it all boils down to a few key lessons to keep in mind before an interview or major event:

  • Fake it until you become it. Research suggests that the physical action of smiling can actually make you feel better. Similarly, starting out with a bit of false confidence can actually result in the real thing. 
  • Use self affirmation. Before walking into the interview room, remind yourself of your personal core values - what matters most to you and who you are. This helps reduce anxiety about social rejection and increases openness to others, putting you in a better mindset for the interview.
  • Listen, don’t preach. Many people talk as a defense mechanism, when in fact staying quiet and listening can result in many benefits. Actively listening is an opportunity to gain trust, acquire information, and see others as individuals and allies rather than stereotypes. Rather than pushing an unauthentic self with talking too much, allow your presence, unexplained and unembellished, to speak for itself.
  • Try power posing. Nonverbal cues play a huge role in creating one’s presence and impression on others. Those who feel more confident and powerful will often stand taller, have larger movements, and make more confident. So before heading in for an interview or big meeting, give yourself some time to adopt expansive, open postures (like a starfish or superwoman pose). This can help you exude a stronger presence and boost your confidence level!

At the end of the day, however, presence does not work alone. If you do not have the knowledge to back up your power poses, even the most confident and expansive gestures won’t communicate a genuine sense of presence to win over your audience. But, once you do have the interview basics down, be sure to try a power pose or two before your next interview to up your game.

Siyu Wu is from Colorado and attends Princeton University, pursuing a degree in Economics and certificates in Finance and East Asian Studies. Siyu will graduate in 2018. She hopes to synthesize her interest in China and East Asia with her passion for finance to eventually work in a career related to international finance and Asian capital markets.

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