You want to return to work after a long hiatus. The first thing you need to work on is your resume, right? Well, yes, a resume is a critical job search tool, but you need to work on your “executive presence”, too.
The most well-written resume filled with stellar accomplishments won’t lead you to a job unless you have a solid executive presence. It doesn’t matter if you want to work for a major corporation or a small company down the street, as a manager or administrator, in technology or fashion. Everybody needs executive presence to land and keep any job.
So what does this mean? Everyone needs to walk and talk like an executive? To some degree, yes. Here are the three components of executive presence, according to a study (see “Executive Presence Press Release”) co-authored by Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s Center for Talent Innovation:
- GRAVITAS—or the ability to project confidence, poise under pressure and decisiveness.
- COMMUNICATION—excellent speaking skills, assertiveness and the ability to read an audience or situation.
- APPEARANCE—a look that is polished and put together.
Since I’ve worked with so many returning professional women, I can relate these attributes specifically to your situation.
First, the key word in the “gravitas” description is confidence. Many returning professionals have a confidence deficit—thinking that their time out of the workforce makes them less worthy of paid jobs. Get those negative thoughts out of your head! Recognize that you have a lifetime portfolio of skills and experience (see “Help Wanted from Women Over 40“) to offer employers and fill your head (and your resume) instead with examples of how you’ve continued to develop your business skills through volunteer work and other endeavors.
Confidence also plays into your communication skills. When you’re in an interview, you have to speak with authority and ease so that potential employers see that you will be an active contributor to their team. The best way to project confidence is to plan and practice what you want to say. Prepare two or three stories that are relevant to the job and illustrate your fit. Emphasize your ability to work with people who have different leadership styles and skill sets and find common ground. Your “ability to read an audience or a situation” is indeed key: make sure you show employers that you can quickly assess a challenge and jump in with possible solutions.
And finally, appearance does matter. It’s not just about looking polished and professional, it’s being hip to the style in the industries of interest to you. A manufacturing company may still have a lot of women in very tailored (read: masculine) business suits, while women in advertising are wearing all the latest fashion trends. If your clothing is out of sync with a workplace culture, it will be the first suggestion that you could be outdated or out of touch. You don’t need to lose your individual style, but you have to adapt somewhat to the environment you’re pursuing.
As a funny aside, an elegant and self-assured woman I know recently attended a very high-level conference of global women leaders. With awe she tweeted about the discussions of major women’s initiatives—and also about the fact that most of the extremely fashionable businesswomen in attendance wore platform shoes and no pantyhose. She is of the age that assumes pantyhose is part of being “dressed up” (me too—who would have known?), and I think her lower heels and covered legs made her feel a little out of place. That’s just one little example at one event…you wouldn’t like to feel that discomfort every day of the week.
So the moral of this story is to work on your executive presence as hard as you work on your resume. With this insight and more that you can find in a Marie Claire article about the study, you’ll get employers to look far past the fact that you’ve been out of the workforce for several years, a decade or more. —KAS
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Photo Credit: www.freedigitalphotos.net/Stuart Miles