Signs of a Winning Presence
There once was a time (in movies, at any rate,
if not in real life) when business executives
would say approvingly of a job candidate,
"I like the cut of his jib." By
this they meant that there was something about
the candidate that was pleasing to the eye,
like a sail boat with its jib sail properly
set. While the phraseology of corporate-speak
may have changed, the fact that employers
draw subjective conclusions based on a candidate's
"presence" has not.
also remains true that some candidates simply
seem to have a generally more efficient and
positive air about them than others. What
elements contribute to this aura? How is it
that certain candidates can "sail into"
a room and impress their interviewers, while
others don't make quite as positive an impact?
are six elements I see that separate job candidates
with a winning presence from those who do
not make a strong initial impression. These
include: Physical appearance. Tall, short,
fat, thin, young, old, handsome, homely C
none of these traits is a factor in rating
the physical appearance of candidates. What
does count is attention to detail and the
subtle cues given off by body language. Appropriate
dress is a must, and it is almost impossible
to overdress. Even in a business casual environment,
men should wear a sports coat and women a
pants suit or other business attire. Little
things count. A small stain from lunch, shoes
that are not polished, shoes that are too
polished, a belt fitted to the very last hole,
an ill-knotted tie C all of these are signs
of potential inefficiency or poor judgement.
body, of course, speaks volumes, sometimes
betraying things that we would never express
verbally. Poor eye contact, toe tapping, finger
drumming, and wet palms suggest that the candidate
is nervous and may feel that they are in over
their heads. A too rigid or military bearing
may indicate a lack of flexibility or imagination.
A phlegmatic demeanor may indicate the candidate
is bored or feels superior to the position
for which she is interviewing (or simply doesn't
get enough sleep). By contrast, an upright
carriage, a purposeful walk, an engaging smile,
and a confident yet deferential demeanor suggest
a candidate who is comfortable with people
and graceful under pressure.
ability. A positive physical appearance can
be quickly undercut by poor speaking ability.
Speaking ability is not necessarily a matter
of tone or inflection. You don't have to have
a voice like James Earl Jones to be a good
speaker. Nor does it depend on a professorial
vocabulary. Rather, it is the ability to process
information and arrange it in a coherent and
insightful manner. Organization of detail
and selection of detail are what count. A
good candidate understands the point behind
a question and addresses himself to that point
with clarity and brevity.
A confident, neat appearance, the ability
to speak well C these are important qualities,
but a lot of charlatans have them. Depth is
another matter. It entails a concrete knowledge
of a variety of disciplines, markets or cultures
and the ability to see how they interrelate.
Depth can only be acquired through study,
application and a variety of life experiences.
Generally, it is the product of intellectual
curiosity. All good recruiters know how to
probe for depth. One of my favorite methods
is to ask candidates what book they have enjoyed
lately. If it is merely the latest potboiler
C or if they have read no books at all C they
are unlikely to pass the test.
ability. Good candidates listen not just with
their ears, but with their bodies, and, especially,
their eyes. The eyes will show if a question
or statement has been fully comprehended and
its implications understood. Good listeners
also ask good questions. An insightful, interesting,
or unexpected question indicates that the
candidate has thought through what the interviewer
has said and has taken the thought to the
next level of complexity. Candidates who don't
ask questions, or only ask questions about
the specifics of a job (salary, start date,
etc.), have not been listening.
sense of humor. Clearly, there are sound evolutionary
reasons why humans developed a sense of humor.
It's a survival mechanism that allows us to
cope with stress and to interact more efficiently
with other members of the tribe, or, as we
call it today, the company. A humorless candidate
will find himself isolated in the work place
and, in some cases, feared. Winning candidates
don't tell jokes, but they do make observations
that show they have the ability to laugh.
One of the qualities employers put a premium
on is confidence. Regardless of personal or
professional setbacks, winning candidates
are sure they can eventually arrive at a positive
outcome. It's a mistake to let this spirit
evolve into arrogance, however, as some dot
comers are discovering. Candidates who are
dismissive of the competition or of the traditional
economy, who divide people into those who
"get it" and those who "don't
get it," quickly wear out their welcome
in an interview. There is no need for excessive
modesty but winning candidates show that they
are eager to learn and can be taught.
signs are just that C outward indications
that an applicant is confident, efficient,
personable and knowledgeable. Job experience,
education and related factors also are of
great importance in determining if a candidate
is right for a job. Nevertheless, if interviewers
"like the cut of your jib," more
than half the battle is won.