Confidence at Work, a Career Essential

In your work life, confidence matters. Certainty about your ability to achieve, trust that you can rise to meet opportunities and challenges, and reliance on your inner strength are attributes that can fuel your career success.

On the flip side, lack of confidence comes at a high price. You may struggle with self-doubt and signal that insecurity to others. You might find yourself excluded from a social group of promising risers. Or you could be left out of significant tasks that lead to advancement. And your career can stall, all for lack of confidence.

You may believe that you’ll have more confidence after others have recognized you and given you more authority — but that’s reverse thinking, because recognition, advancement, and higher pay usually come to those who display confidence first.


So, how does confidence manifest itself at work? It has two sides: how you feel about yourself and how you make others regard you. You have more power to guide both of those impressions than you may realize.

Some people come by their confidence naturally, but most of us need to create and cultivate it. If you belong to the majority, you’ll benefit from these five components of confidence that will help you grow an authentic sense of sure-footedness, which is an essential ingredient of a healthy career in any field.

Confidence Component #1 – “Smartitude”

You don’t need Albert Einstein’s IQ to be super smart in your job, but you do have to learn that job well and carry yourself with a sense of authority. Let’s take the simple example of an auto mechanic. You come to him because he knows your engine model inside-out and can apply a reliable repair that lasts. His college test scores, his personal income, and whether or not he’s handsome are all irrelevant — it’s his expertise that matters. When you ask him questions about your car, he can answer without a moment of uncertainty about the steps he’ll take to diagnose the problem and then fix it. That’s confidence based on expertise in the job.

The particulars of your situation are most likely different, but the concept is the same. Become an expert at what you do, and your confidence will follow. As you radiate that knowing expertise, people will begin to refer others to you as the go-to person in your area. The pride this triggers will support your growing confidence.

If there’s more you could learn to master your field, here’s how to get smarter:

  1. Training. Take all of the relevant classes and use all of the online study and background resources provided by your company.
  2. Online courses. There are so many online options (both paid and free) that you can easily deepen your knowledge to a level your co-workers and boss will admire — all from the privacy of your home. Many short courses offer certificates, and others award bonafide degrees for those who put a few years into study. Either way, your confidence will be authentically enriched by more highly-developed insights into your field and improving your qualifications for a more advanced position. Using the technical language, best practices, measurement tools, broad perspective, and personal skills you’ll gain will raise the respect others feel toward you.
  3. Conferences and seminars. A great way to see how you measure up to others in your field is to attend workshops and meetings that draw peers from other organizations. (Check your industry association website and subscribe to trade journals for leads.) By listening to speakers, attending workshops, and striking up conversations with other attendees, you’ll be able to gauge how you compare to others in your field. If you’ve undertaken steps 1 and 2 above, you’ll probably find that you’re further along the path than you suspected, and that’s another thumbs-up to boost your confidence.

Find a way to expand your expertise or education so that you can grow your “smartitude” and put a little swagger in your step on the job.

Confidence Component #2 – Personal Presentation

Although Hollywood and the advertising industry puts a premium on svelte beauty, in the real world, it’s more important to your career that you look believable and appropriate for your role. “Looking the part” is a super-fast shortcut to “feeling the part,” — in other words, establishing more self-confidence.

Present yourself as the person you want others to see. Set aside the wardrobe that says, “I don’t care what I wear” because others will assume you feel the same way about your job. On the other hand, when you dress out of respect for your role, others will see you for the skills you offer rather than wonder about your maturity and dedication. When you dress the outer you as if you are confident, others will take that at face value and respond accordingly.

Remember, having a new MBA or a resume bursting with certificates won’t do anything for your confidence if executives treat you like you’re still a student, so ditch the worn canvas backpack, banish the t-shirt and sneakers, and own your role as an adult. If you’ve been at the company for a while and your career has hit a plateau, upgrade your wardrobe from whatever it is to a style that reflects what your boss and others are wearing. Giving the appearance of upward mobility not only improves your chances for it, but it will also make you feel more assured and more energized about upping your game.

Grooming is also important. While personal expression and feeling good about oneself does play a huge role in the confidence you display, it’s important that you recognize what will help others have confidence in you. Cleanliness and simplicity is key. You want your colleagues and clients focused on your work and achievements, not distracted by how you look. Of course, this advice can vary depending on the profession, but finding that balance between self-expression and what is appropriate for your workplace can ensure that you feel confident and others feel confident in you.

The cheapest and most immediate way to feel confident is to adopt good posture. Put an end to slumping in front of your computer!

Confidence Component #3 – Positivity

Everyone has a relative who tells them to lower their expectations, a colleague who undermines them, or an acquaintance who sees everything from a negative point of view. Many people have inner critics that argue they’re not worthy or gifted enough to succeed at what they’re doing. If you want to maintain a healthy degree of confidence, you need to push these influences to the edges of your life and create a new internal voice for yourself.

The first step is to recognize who has the power to deflate your confidence. Whoever they are, have a conversation with them explaining how their comments make you feel. Ask that they resist commenting on certain aspects of your life and work, or ask them to find a way to phrase their criticisms more constructively. If they react poorly or go back to their old habits, make yourself “too busy” to spend much time with them. (That will be true if you take an online course to improve your job skills.)

Then, identify the people and tasks that lift your spirits, and add more of them as ingredients to your week. Recreation, family time, creative expression, or nature can help you surround yourself in comfort and remind you of your “right” place where you belong and feel at ease. Place reminders of those things in your workspace and reflect on them at intervals throughout your day.

Here’s an old trick that works: Make a list of your most useful skills, valuable traits, and positive aspirations; then remind yourself of them each night before you sleep. This helps put your subconscious on your side. Try setting small goals that use these positive features and satisfy you. These, in turn, will feed your confidence. Any win, large or small, is a victory for confidence.

Finally, take care of your body and spirit. Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, and if possible, give yourself daily exposure to people who encourage you. Take up some moderate exercise to push toxic anxieties out of your body and revitalize your mental sphere.

Confidence Component #4 – Productivity

If you want to light a bonfire of confidence under your career, there’s nothing more potent than productivity. A sense of achievement is self-rewarding, but it’s also vital to the company for which you work. In fact, many compensation plans include productivity as a critical evaluation factor.

Whether you work alone or as part of a team, view your tasks not as a burden, but as a way to gain control over your work life. If you complete them well and on time, you “own” your work rather than allowing it to own you. Control is an essential element of confidence because it removes doubt.

If you’re not a loner by nature, get a work buddy and form a pact that you’ll each boost each other’s confidence. Review each other’s work before turning it in, and give each other suggestions to make the output even better before the boss or the client see it. By using this private, safe review before you unveil your task or proposal, you’ll feel confident about its success when it’s time to present it.

As much as you might want to establish control on your own, you will encounter productivity killers. Here are some tools you can use to minimize them.

  1. Meetings. Any time you can run a meeting, whether it’s in-person or virtual, you have a highly visual opportunity to show your leadership skills, even if you don’t run a department. Show yourself to be a confident leader by being organized, starting on time, and offering an action-oriented summary at the end – who will do what next. Before the meeting, briefly summarize past decisions and data so that it doesn’t need to be revisited, and share relevant documents digitally shortly before the meeting so that attendees don’t need to hunt up copies from some time in the past. If you do these things, your confidence about taking charge of a topic or task will grow because you’re taking the steps that result in success and praise.
  2. To-do lists. Your accomplishments are seen more clearly if you use a shared to-do list such as Trello or BaseCamp, and you’ll find great satisfaction moving your assignments from “pending” to “done.” Your boss can see your productivity as well, and knowing that should elevate your sense of job security.
  3. Email is perhaps the biggest time-suck in business today, and it can make you feel busy all day while preventing you from accomplishing anything that matters. Because email is visible, and because it takes your time away from essential priorities, it can undermine your confidence in two ways.

Gain an edge in how your emails are viewed by using an outside service, such as Wordzen, to polish messages before sending them. And save time with email by grouping your responses into a morning and afternoon timeslot. Then, reply quickly by voice-recording your response or typing a rough draft. Shoot these raw versions to Wordzen and let their editors turn your thoughts into emails that make you proud while you spend your time more productively on other priorities. Learn more here.

Communication is the most visible way you establish your reputation at work, so it’s a critical component of building and maintaining confidence in the workplace. When you have a team of editors reviewing your communications, you’ll start to see yourself moving ahead of your competition at work. Nothing boosts confidence like winning that race.

By the way, if you’re a Gmail user and want to stay up-to-date on tricks and tips to increase your productivity — and make your peers a little jealous of your Gmail skills — consider subscribing to the Gmail Genius newsletter.

Insecurity is a huge distraction that takes enormous energy to support. So ditch it!

Confidence Component #5 – Overcoming Personal Challenges

If confidence is an issue for you and you don’t find all the answers you need using the tactics we’ve discussed here, consider finding a career coach to help you analyze your personal challenges and strategize solutions with you. A career coach has the training and expertise to apply both counseling skills and connections to resources that can help you resolve your issues and regain the confidence you deserve, particularly because you spend such a large portion of your life at work.

The benefit of a career coach is that they’ll gently show you any realities you’re having trouble seeing clearly on your own and help guide you past them. Also, they can solve practical issues, such as recommending the best course for a new certificate or suggesting ways to transfer out of a department you hate, while not leaving a company you love.

The Bottom Line

Confidence and doubt both come from within, so align yourself with the tools, skills, and attitudes that favor confidence and replace insecurity. Start by focusing on things you feel confident about now, and add more and more to your repertoire. Also, take advantage of the external resources that can help you plan well, perform productively, and communicate with confidence and ease.

We’re confident you’ll succeed!