Imagine this. Two candidates are in final interviews with a CEO. Their skill sets both align with the organization’s goals for the position; both have demonstrated their ability to do the work. But one will get the job, and the other won’t. What advantage could that person have?

Soft skills, attributes, work style—there are a lot of phrases people use to get at the intangibles of working on a team. And the intangible that may tip the scales here is executive presence. The good news is it’s something you can develop. Here’s how.

It’s Not About Posturing or Fake Confidence

Executive presence is often misunderstood as the old stereotype of an executive: bold, loud, brimming with self-confidence—the empty suit. That picture is outdated and biased. Executive presence is more about communicating effectively with people in different contexts. You aren’t trying to “speak the language of the CEO.” You are presenting yourself as someone the CEO can trust to represent the organization and work effectively with the team and other stakeholders.

Indeed describes executive presence as the “ability to inspire others to be assertive in their roles through the consistent demonstration of confidence and clear leadership.” The Harvard Business Review describes it as “a combination of self-confidence, poise, and authenticity that impacts your ability to inspire confidence in others to believe in and follow you.”

In the context of a job interview with a CEO or top executive, the Staffing Advisors team encourages candidates to keep it simple: “Be bright, be brief, and pause.”

Be Bright: Have Something Meaningful to Say

When interviewing with a CEO or senior leader, make sure you have a purposeful and relevant message—every word should add value. Ask yourself: “How does what I’m about to say align with the organization’s goals and priorities?” We recommend using the CAR interview method to prepare talking points for every key skill: context, action, and result. Keep your message focused. Your interviewer will ask questions if they want to learn more.

Be Brief: Get to the Point

Time is an executive’s most scarce resource. Convey your message without unnecessary lead-up or excessive background. This doesn’t mean skimping on essential details; it means being clear and direct. Use straightforward language, focus on outcomes and benefits, and avoid jargon or expressions. Using slang or a clever turn of phrase can backfire and jeopardize your chances of getting the job.

Pause: Stop Talking and Wait

Once you’ve delivered your message, pause. This might feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s important. By giving your interviewer time to digest, you’re allowing them to formulate questions, provide insights, or give direction. Talking continuously dilutes your message and can be perceived as a lack of confidence in what you’ve just shared.

Putting It Into Practice

Here are some sample responses to interview questions about common work scenarios. They contain just enough context to understand the value of the work, the action taken, and the outcome. Short and to the point.

Think about how you would answer relatively broad questions like these as relates to the position you are interviewing for. Can you get your answers down to a few sentences without losing impact or key points?

Tell me about your experience launching a marketing campaign.

“In my previous role, we needed to engage with millennials to raise awareness about our sustainability initiatives, but our current strategies weren’t working. I led a new digital marketing campaign, leveraging influencers in the sustainability space to creating shareable, mobile-friendly content. The campaign resulted in a 40% increase in millennial engagement and doubled our social media followers within three months.”

Has there ever been a time when a product launch was delayed? What did you do?

“At ABC Corporation, the launch of our key product was delayed due to supply chain disruptions, jeopardizing our Q2 sales goals. I coordinated with suppliers, established alternative sourcing routes, and realigned our internal teams to a new timeline, ensuring everyone was informed. Despite initial delays, we launched the product successfully within the quarter, achieving 95% of our sales target.”

Tell me about your experience developing a new onboarding process.

“In my previous role, our retention rate for new hires within their first year was only 60%, indicating potential gaps in our onboarding process. I led the redesign of our onboarding program, integrating a mentorship system, tailored training modules, and regular feedback sessions in the first six months of employment. Within a year, our retention rate for new hires increased to 85%, with feedback highlighting the comprehensive and supportive nature of the new program.”

How have you expanded outreach in your community?

“In my previous role, while our local outreach programs were successful, we hadn’t effectively expanded to neighboring communities, limiting our impact. I devised a strategy to replicate our local programs in three neighboring communities, collaborating with local leaders and tailoring initiatives to cater to each community’s unique needs. This expansion increased our program’s reach by 200% in 18 months, driving up participation and enhancing our association’s regional reputation.”

Competence Creates Genuine Confidence

Our nonprofit and association clients often tell us they are looking for a certain type of presence beyond the more obvious key skills for a role. They want someone who appears credible and inspires confidence in the organization, whether when talking to team members, the board, or other stakeholders. This is an underlying job competency in many positions.

When you talk to a senior leader (or any interviewer), you aren’t just sharing your accomplishments. You are showing them what it’s like to work with you and how likely you are to garner the respect and confidence of others. Crafting your responses using the CAR method with the “be bright, be brief, and pause” framework demonstrates your competence in doing the work and talking about it. When you are competing with other candidates who likely have equally strong sets of skills and experience, both matter.

For more job search and interview strategies, check out our Job Searching 101 series: