In today’s job market, with few opportunities and boundless numbers of highly qualified candidates, we are all looking for the competitive edge.

It turns out that we are walking around in our competitive edge.

Hiring authorities are looking for people they can trust to get the job done, who can stay balanced in times of chaos, and who can mobilize others toward a common cause. These qualities are observable through our presence or physical shape as indicated by the tilt of our head, the pitch of our torso, the cadence of our voice. The traditional skills of technical and intellectual competence are no longer enough. Employers are looking for the leadership characteristics of trust, commitment, and honesty they need in the new business model. The question becomes: How do we portray and identify these characteristics in the hiring process?

Identifying the leadership presence of prospective candidates is more tangible then one might think. Leadership qualities, defined here as the ability to get more done by leading others, can be observed in the body.

Albert Mehrabian, a professor with UCLA, conducted a two-year study to determine what makes someone credible. His study revealed 7 percent is content, 38 percent is voice tone and tempo, and 55 percent is body language. In other words, 93 percent of our ability to convince someone of our trust and credibility comes through our body.

As a professional interviewer for the past 20 years, I have observed how people’s commitment to their profession, congruence in their responses, and ability to work with others lives in their body, or their “presence.” By presence I mean the ability to produce trust in someone else.

When asked the simple question “Why do you want to work for us?” the candidate who leans back subtly, relaxes his face, smiles, and states a clear response that connects his history with his ambition usually gets my vote. The candidate who shifts abruptly in his chair, eyes averted, and tightens his jaw gets my radar up, even if his words tell a compelling story. I see a disconnect between the words and the messages his body is sending. These mixed messages cause me to wonder how willingly others would be to follow this person.

Another example of the body representing a leadership presence is a candidate’s tone of voice. When I ask him to tell me about a project that was not completed on time, I listen to cadence and volume. If the candidate’s cadence is balanced and his tone rich, I am engaged and curious. If the cadence picks up and the tone is a higher pitch, I begin to wonder what is behind the increased level of stress. I ask myself if I really believe what they are saying.

The candidates who project a balanced leadership presence will almost always put themselves in the position of receiving an offer. They are the candidates whose head is aligned with their shoulders, and not tilted to one side or the other. They communicate an ability to stay balanced even in a stressful interviewing situation, suggesting they would remain balanced in pressured work situations. They appear to be not too far ahead of themselves, or receding into the background.

They sit tall in their seats, indicating they are committed to a cause; as opposed to slouching, sending a message of uncertainty. Their jaws are relaxed, projecting ease. They are free to allow a normal smile, instead of sending a message of tension. Their eyes are relaxed, indicating they are open to other’s perspectives instead of narrowed, which projects a critical position. Their shoulders have an easy motion to them, appearing wide and relaxed, sending the message they are open to connecting with others on a team. Their voices are steady, with a relaxed speed that delivers a trusting quality; the exact opposite of a faster, higher pitch typical when someone is nervous or hiding something.

We can learn to embody a presence that is compelling, trusting, and balanced. These qualities live in the shape of our bodies and are directly observable. Working with a coach who can see and articulate these messages can help candidates be more competitive.

The ability to spot the leadership qualities has never been more critical for employers, and the stakes of presenting themselves with a leadership presence has never been more important for candidates. A leadership presence is the tie breaker between the person who gets hired and the one who doesn’t.

Castoro, a 1985 graduate of Adelphi, is a Princeton Junction resident who has screened employees for Adecco, Grant Thornton, and Disney. More recently she has worked as a consultant for Sungard Availability Services, a multinational IT company, and for Salveson Stetson, an executive search company.

Castoro, the mother of two school-age children who is married to a Bristol-Myers Squibb research chemist, has just founded the Irimi Group (www.irimigroup.com), to coach jobseekers and work with hiring managers, helping them identify the best employees for their firms. She can be reached at 609-716-6424 or at amycastoro@yahoo.com.

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