What To Do When Opportunity Knocks, Part Two: Act The Part

What To Do When Opportunity Knocks, Part Two: Act The Part

For the first time since the records started being kept, there are more jobs available in the United States than there are people to fill them. That has created something of a ‘seller’s market,’ especially for some lower level positions. But, don’t be lulled into complacency. The bigger jobs with bigger paychecks are still very selectively given, and you’ll need to do the right things to garner one of these plum positions.

Last time, we talked about how if we are going to impress potential employers we have to look the part: dress appropriately, have a quality briefcase, be careful about jewelry, etc. Just as important as how you look is how you act. Important interviews have quickly gone south because somebody’s cell phone went off, or the body language was sending the wrong signals. The good news is, these are all fixable things.

Let’s take a look at some of the most important elements of acting the part:

Turn off your mobile/cell phone. Few things telegraph “I don’t value your time” more than a mobile phone that is live. Silencing your cell phone is always a good practice when you enter a meeting, interview, or business lunch or dinner.

Smile. As the old adage goes, “Smile and the world smiles with you.” A warm smile goes a long way toward creating a good first impression. It will put both you and the other person at ease. But don’t go overboard with this; you can come off seeming insincere and a “lightweight” if a smile or grin is frozen on your face.

Make eye contact. When you look directly into someone’s eyes, you transmit energy, interest, and openness. One sure way to strengthen your eye contact is to make a point of noticing the eye color of your new acquaintance. But there’s more to know about eye contact. I have a dear friend who studied eye movement in her graduate work in psychology. She’s coached me to notice how often a person looks down and/or left when speaking to me. In such cases, the person is likely telling an untruth. I took a neural linguistic programming course years ago, and the instructor taught the same principle. Just saying.

Shake hands. The handshake is a quick, effective way to build rapport. Make it firm, but not a knuckle breaker. Research has found that it takes an average of three hours of continuous interaction with someone else to develop the same level of rapport that you can get with a single handshake.

Stand up straight. Power and status are nonverbally communicated by height and space. Standing erect, pulling your shoulders back, and holding your head straight are all signals of confidence and competence. Go to YouTube to check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are” (June 2012). She had me standing straighter the moment I finished watching her presentation.

Lean in slightly. Leaning forward telegraphs that you’re interested and engaged. But be mindful and respectful of the other person’s space. Staying about two feet away is a safe rule of thumb.

Practice good manners. Don’t guess at what is appropriate etiquette. Get the answers. You will likely be networking with people who were taught wonderful manners from early childhood. Find a good etiquette book. (For women, a favorite is Emily Post’s Etiquette by Peggy Post and Anna Post. For men, a favorite is The Art of Manliness by Brett McKay and Kate McKay. Read and refer to them often.)

Take Action Now

  1. Use your next meeting, dinner party or networking event, to practice these tips. As you do, notice the body language of others. For instance: Do they have a confident handshake? Do they look you in the eye? Do they return your smile?
  2.  Manners are so important. Notice someone talking too loud or monopolizing a group conversation? How are others reacting? Use your new lens of “Act the Part” to observe, evaluate and learn.
  3. Always be you!  No one else on the planet is like you! Be confident and, above all, have fun!
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