Creating exceptional presence is about how others feel around you–it’s not really about you. Some professionals have gotten the wrong impression about presence, that it’s about control and dominance and showing off. In one-on-one interviews, that attitude will reflect poorly on you. More important components of presence for the job seeker are: honesty, listening, good communication skills, maturity, humility and team work.
This is Part Two of a three-part article. The first part was Preparing for the Interview. The third part will be Tough Situations. The person asking questions is a hypothetical job seeker and is a composite of several people I have met lately. Don’t be too hard on him or her–looking for work in this recession would make anyone a little wonky.
Part Two: Speaking and Listening during the Interview
I’m so depressed I can’t muster a firm handshake. They’ll understand, right?
When I recently told a company recruiter that some of my clients are job seekers, she grabbed my arm and said, “Tell them they need to shake my hand.” She then demonstrated the disagreeable ‘wet noodle’ handshake and shook her head. “Ick.” Now you know. Ladies, this applies to you too.
I know I need to make a BIG impression in how I present myself, and some interviewers ask really dumb questions. My plan is to just tell them what they should know about me.
Huh. You didn’t actually ask a question, but perhaps I could offer another idea. Interviewers vary–some are good, and some are terrible. You may have to help your interviewer a bit if he or she is inexperienced or nervous. Be patient, stay calm, and make sure you understand what question is being asked before you launch into a response. Don’t talk too much and suck all the oxygen out of the room. Clarify the question if need be. It demonstrates respect and shows that you really do want to give the information desired. Answer honestly and straightforwardly. People are very skilled at detecting spin or question avoidance or manipulation. They may not call you on it–in fact, they probably won’t–but it will come out later that you dodged a question. Make sure you are answering the right question or it may look like a dodge when you didn’t intend to.
Shouldn’t my goal be to be the one talking all the time during an interview?
Well, consider also listening carefully. Yes, an interview is a time to perform, but listening is also performing. Managers with a strong presence are excellent listeners, and you want to show that you have that skill in spades. Listening can also provide you with information about problems at the company that you can help solve. Bringing up what you learned and how you would deal with those challenges later in the day shows your ability to listen, reflect, and perform on your feet. Did I mention those also reflect a terrific presence?
I’ve had very important positions before. How do I teach the interviewer some respect?
Err. Try to be courteous and respectful yourself to every person who interviews you. Now is the time to pound out any trace of arrogance, entitlement or ‘tude from your behavior. Treat every person as though he or she is just as important as the others. Be on high alert not to treat potential subordinates as though they don’t matter. This is not the time to duck out to make a call, let your guard down and sprawl out with your arms behind your head, or start pumping the interviewee for information. Now is the time to show them what kind of boss you would be: respectful, appreciative, and attentive. Sometimes companies are simply looking for a capable manager to lead a team, and a strong recommendation from the team can be the biggest factor in getting an offer.
Won’t asking questions make me sound uninformed?
Not at all. Do ask questions. This is really how you differentiate yourself and demonstrate interest, curiosity, smarts, and experience. Ask meaningful questions that you genuinely don’t know the answers to, not show-offy questions in an attempt to make them see how smart you are. That humility adds greatly to your leadership presence. Ask as many questions as they give you time for, but graciously yield the floor when the time is up.
I feel like this interview is do or die. How do I keep them from knowing how desperate I am?
Stay upbeat and cheerful. Interviews can be stressful for both parties. To keep the tension out of the room, take lots of breaths, use pauses, smile, be philosophical. Be forthcoming. It’s much better to acknowledge ruefully that something didn’t go your way than pretend that you had control over a situation and then find yourself awkwardly trying to explain why you made such poor choices.
Aren’t I just being authentic when I act hang-dog in the interview?
No, you don’t need to disclose all your feelings to be authentic. If you have been out of work for a significant period of time, be honest about that. Don’t pretend that you’ve been consulting or starting a business if you haven’t. It’s better to describe how you have made lemonade out of lemons by taking courses, taking some time off, doing some research–be truthful, but practice describing your time off in a way that shows how you have shown maturity and grace during a tough period. Make reference to the recession because that is a significant factor in your unemployment. But you still want to sound optimistic about the future, not hang-dog. Portraying yourself as a patient person who is wisely waiting for the right opportunity adds to your poise and builds respect.
My last employer fired me unfairly. Shouldn’t I explain what an idiot he was?
If there are awkward patches in your past, practice describing what happened in as positive a light as you can and don’t let resentment and hostility show. This is an opportunity to show that you can handle life’s challenges, move on, and learn from the experience.
What if they ask me how long I’ve been looking?
I would suggest that you say that you have been looking (if you have) but that there hasn’t been a good match yet. You don’t need to give any details about what your successes or failures have been in the search process. That should be irrelevant to your potential employer and you don’t want that information to harm your negotiating position if you get an offer. For example, you don’t want the employer to offer a low ball salary because they think you are desperate because it’s the first interview you’ve had in a year.
How do I close the deal at the end of the interview?
You don’t want to. Both parties need to think over what they have learned. The overall impression that you want to leave with the company is that you are an individual with certain skills, that you are interested but not desperate, that you recognize that the company has certain opportunities and problems that you can consider objectively. You have validated skills that are for sale, but there is a price. You aren’t going to work for free.
Convey too that if you don’t get the job, you will respect their decision (they may have another job in the future which would be better suited to you, so don’t burn any bridges). The ability to deal with very important situations and decisions non-emotionally and calmly contributes significantly to your presence.
In Part Three of this article, we will consider ways to handle tough situations. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have other thoughts for job seekers.
Copyright © 2013 Jennifer K. Crittenden
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