Question: I attended a military-to-civilian job fair, and one of the employers told me I should focus on building “charisma.” They said it would be helpful in job interviews and networking. Is that true?
Answer: Old-school tips for executive presence focused on qualities like charisma. Picture the male, dressed in a tailored suit, hair nice and coiffed, displaying a sparkly set of pearly white teeth. He walks into a room and shakes hands, kisses babies, smiles at strangers and everyone seems to want to be around him. This is how charisma used to be promoted.
Today, charisma and executive presence look very different. Someone with passion, authenticity, approachability and credibility is said to have charisma, regardless of race, gender, job title or brand of business suit.
Why Charisma Matters
Charisma has value today, just not in the way it used to. In the past, sales professionals, business leaders, politicians and celebrities focused on a charismatic presence to be seen and valued. Today, anyone who interacts with others — at a job interview, networking meeting or more — should display some degree of charisma.
Charisma today is when someone displays warmth, confidence, relatability and excitement for their station in life or the topic of discussion. When we see these qualities, we tend to be drawn toward them. An article in Fast Company magazine highlights how much research has gone into understanding the correlation between warmth, establishing trust and projecting capabilities: “Studies have shown that smiling is linked to our ideas about how approachable and competent someone is.”
We tend to feel safer around someone who has good body language (looks us in the eyes when talking, nods their head as they express agreement, doesn’t cross their arms as if angry), a positive demeanor (relaxed shoulders, appropriate hand gestures, smiles) and is knowledgeable (can draw upon their experience and expertise in relevant — not arrogant — ways).
How to Project Charisma
In a job interview, networking meeting, casual conversation or on the job, charisma will keep things lively and interesting. No, you don’t have to go from being shy to being “large and in charge,” but warmth and approachability are important.
Here are my tips for projecting charisma:
1. Feel Confident in Your Skin
You are you, and that’s exactly how it should be. Bring a confident attitude to your interactions. You’re not perfect; none of us are! But you have stories, experiences and skills, and that makes you worth listening to.
2. Become Interested in Others
If you are new at casual conversations with civilians (who may not understand your military background), asking questions is a great technique to get started. Ask about their background, career path, the work they do and so on. Then, as they answer you, look them in the eyes, nod your head in agreement and ask clarifying questions to show you’re paying attention.
3. Pace Yourself
Don’t hurry through an introduction or new meeting. Let things unfold in time and offer bits of your story as the discussion develops. When you display charisma, you’re not rushing to “sell” yourself; you’re letting the other person learn about you at a natural pace.
4. Watch Your Body Language
In addition to the eye contact mentioned above, turn your body toward the person you’re speaking to. From your head down to your shoulders, hips and feet, pointing in their direction shows that you’re present and attentive. Avoid fidgeting, picking at your fingers, twisting jewelry and other distracting habits that can indicate a lack of confidence.
In the past, charisma sounded like the proverbial “used car salesman”-style of communicating. Today, it’s about being authentic, approachable and relatable. Most of us can do that!
The author of “Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty” (2020) and “Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition” (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.
A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
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