How to Influence Your Interviewer

interview presence

It’s a bit hard to define, but you know executive presence when you see it.

We say people have presence when they have the ability to capture other people’s attention, interest, even imagination. Many of us describe it as charisma, but Kristi Hedges prefers not to. Charisma sounds too unattainable, too rare. Presence is something a bit more concrete, and something we all can attain with some focus, says Hedges, an executive coach and the author of The Power of Presence.

Hedges defines presence as the ability to connect with and inspire others. Sure, some people do this more naturally than others. But anyone can develop a stronger presence by having a clear and authentic idea of who they are and of how they want to appear to others.

“We know how to be our best, authentic self because we are that all the time with people we are really comfortable with,” says Hedges. “But we almost always lose touch with the best version of ourselves in stressful situations.”

For many of us, job interviews are pretty stressful. I recently asked Hedges for some advice about creating the kind of presence that can help you land a job.

How does presence impact our ability to do well during interviews?

We want to develop presence so we can influence people. It doesn’t matter if we have presence when we’re standing in front of a mirror, it matters how we appear in the world so we can influence others. If you want to influence someone to hire you, you have to act with intention.

How can we develop our presence?

Be clear about how you want to appear, and then you will be able to convey that to an interviewer. I advise people to create a personal brand statement. Make a list of 15 aspirational values. The aspirational part is important, because these are things you are and want to be when you are at your best. People object, saying they aren’t positive all the time or confident all the time so they can’t list that. But who is? If you want to be more positive then put it on the list.

Narrow that list to five so you can really focus your brand. Make your personal statement from that. Your statement might be a phrase, a lyric, a movie or even a person who represents the values you most want. Use that statement or image to anchor yourself in moments of stress and you can quickly get back to your best self. For example, if you define yourself as a ‘courageous change agent,’ if that is your brand, show up as that and stick with it.

How can you use your presence to make a strong first impression on an interviewer?

First impression do matter, but impressions evolve. We put so much pressure on ourselves to make a good first impression, but it is too much. We’ve all met people we initially don’t like and then warm up to. An interview is an hour or so, and the interviewer’s impression of you will develop.

You need to get people to trust you to get the job. So much attention is paid to externalities–the knee-jerk reality of how someone looks or dresses or speaks. Someone can be polished and highly articulate, but that doesn’t mean you trust them. Building that trust is more important.

Trust usually develops over time, so how can you create it during an interview?

What you want is to make a connection with another person. That connection is enough to establish trust in a short time. There are four main ways to build trust during an interview:

  • Smile, early and often
  • Use the person’s name
  • Listen very carefully
  • Make meaningful connections

If you really listen to the other person, and listen to find hints of what the person is interested in and excited about, you will quickly discover how to connect in an authentic way.

What mistakes do people make that undermine their presence?

One big one is doing more talking than listening. People trust people who don’t talk too much. A second common mistake is selling instead of collaborating. The interviewer is trying to determine what you are like to work with. You are really auditioning for the role of co-worker. If you are selling too hard, giving quick answers, or appear a little arrogant, the interviewer will be thinking that they won’t enjoy working with you. You do have to make your experience and skills clear, but you can do so by weaving those into a conversation that you are both very involved in.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and, among others.