After spending the bulk of my career in the highly competitive world of television news, a place where the color of your lipstick can be as important as the facts of a story, I thought I had seen the last of superficial hiring managers.
You know the type.
Managers who judge professionals by how they look, rather than their performance. Surely the suit you wear to interview with a B2B manufacturing company can’t be as critical as what you wear for a network broadcast with seven million people watching.
Wrong! I can’t tell you the number of times I heard the word “frumpy” used to describe both male and female candidates applying for a senior level position or the number of professionals that have been ruled out of a job search because they did not show well.
Executive presence is a critical component to any candidate’s success.
But what is executive presence? And how do you get it? The term is often used as a catchall phrase to describe leadership, presentation skills, your ability to effectively interact with executives, and yes your appearance.
“Appearance is important,” says Mark Palmer, the V.P. of Communications for Sysco, a leading food service marketer and distributor in North America. “It’s an issue, so take care of it. Are you well groomed? Are your shoes shined? Do you look sharp? I’ve seen suits that would be great for a nightclub, but not a Fortune 100 company.”
You know executive presence when you see it. It’s the person in a meeting or a social gathering who exudes the right level of confidence, the clarity of thought and the ability to express those ideas in a meaningful, yet concise way. It’s that “wow factor” that makes leaders stand out and others listen.
“Confidence is about being able to make your point without having to go on and on about it,” says Palmer. ‘If you are confident and know your stuff, you can present it in a way that people understand without using a $5 word and paragraphs. It’s about story telling, relating the topic to the person you are talking to.”
Self-confidence is just one ingredient in the mixed bag of qualities that make up executive presence. Here are some additional qualities that will help you communicate with confidence in the C-suite.
• Candor: The appearance of honesty. The skill to tell it like it is, yet be judicious in what you say.
• Clarity: The ability to tell your story in a clear, compelling and concise way.
• Listening: Listening is a leadership skill. It includes being accessible and conveying genuine interest in others and the challenges they face.
• Passion: Speak with energy and purpose. Exhibit commitment, motivation and drive for what you do.
• Poise: The look of sophistication, conveying a background of education and experience. A polished personal style isn’t just about the clothes you wear; it’s about how you feel in those clothes. Your business attire should make you feel confident and powerful every day.
• Sincerity: The conviction of believing in what you say.
• Thoughtfulness: Think first and then talk. Have the confidence to pause. Don’t share your internal debate with others.
And here are some final thoughts. Stand up straight and make steady eye contact. When you stand tall, you tell the world you are confident in who you are, what you are doing and where you are headed. If these pointers seem like a lot to digest, remember, executive presence can be learned, improved upon and mastered. Most of us are not born with it.
Shellee Smith is a communications expert with an extensive background in management consulting, broadcast journalism and executive search. She is married to a retired federal agent. Shellee can be reached at Shellee.Smith@ticklethewire.com.