Cultivating personal presence key to success

Most of us spend way too much time working on our résumés while barely giving our personal presence a passing thought.

Your résumé may get you an interview but it won’t land you a job. It’s like having a whole bunch of nails but no hammer. What good is that? Personal presence is the real key to opening doors and meeting with success.

“I see many highly educated, well-qualified people who are out of work,” said Karen Southall Watts, a coach, trainer and writer who works with job seekers at all stages of their careers to assist them in achieving their goals. “Many people expect that their impressive résumés will do all the talking.

“Candidates think they can present a laundry list of qualifications and get job offers, contracts and deals in return. It simply doesn’t work like this. Even when candidates can rattle off their skills, they struggle to convey their value or what it would be like to work with them as an overall experience.”

Tami Palmer, founder of Greyzone, a job search and career mentoring organization, agrees. Palmer tells her clients, “Your résumé is an outline. You are the presentation. Your résumé is a marketing piece to help you get in the door.  It’s up to you to sell yourself.”

Helping clients develop personal presence is a topic near and dear to Palmer’s heart. “I think I have stumbled upon the secret sauce for interview success, really overall career success – pairing humility with confidence,” she said. “That energy is what makes people attracted to you and gets you far. You really need both of these qualities in balance. We need the energy and the confidence to reach out to others, and at the same time we need to remain humble and sincere in our approach.”

The goal is not to be perfect. Presence is about being authentic.

Personal presence can be difficult to define, yet most of us recognize it in a heartbeat. It’s unique to every person and comes in as many different flavors as there are people on the planet. Gandhi had presence. So did Marilyn Monroe. The key is discovering your own presence and staying true to it in every situation.

The good news is that presence can be cultivated. We can learn how to dress or how to sit with greater poise and presence. We can join groups such as Toastmasters in order to refine our public speaking skills.

It is best to begin cultivating presence through a process of self-discovery. We need to embrace what makes us unique and then set clear intentions about how we want to show up in the world.

In my work with clients, I incorporate journaling activities, creative visualizations, personality assessments, value clarifications, video coaching and communication practice to help people discover what makes them unique. Then I help them define and develop their personal brands.  

As they move out into the world, the intention they have set can inform and guide their behaviors. Acting from a place of intention allows us to feel greater confidence and a sense of ease in every situation.

“We can meditate on what we really want to be known for,” Watts said, “and keep these qualities in mind as we interact with others. When networking, for example, it is more about being someone worth talking to than collecting business cards and asking for favors. People can feel when you are trying to convert them to a sale or a job offer. They don’t like that. On the flip side, people can feel when you are genuinely interested in them with no expectations.”

Palmer encourages her clients to ask lots of good questions during interviews and networking conversations. “Show curiosity. Be attentive. It is as simple as asking questions and letting others tell their stories. Listen and make eye contact. People are drawn to us when we show sincere interest in their stories and experiences.”

Toss your résumé aside. Get busy discovering who you are and how you want to be known in this world. Personal presence is cultivated through a lifetime of intentional living.  Every interaction offers a chance to be your best self and to inspire others to do the same.

Carrie Pinsky is a freelance writer, job-search coach and training specialist. Reach her at Pink Sky Counseling and Career Services, 970-225-0772 or


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