What Does “Professional Presence” Mean – And Do You Have It?

We often see “professional presentation” mentioned as a requirement on job descriptions, especially for junior level candidates. For more senior positions, “inspires confidence” and “has professional presence” is often included.

I have pondered what is meant by “professional presentation,” and here are some of the things mentioned when I asked clients for specifics:

  • Able to look the interviewer in the eyes when speaking to them
  • Speaks in a confident, logical manner, using appropriate vocabulary and grammar
  • Clothing is professional and there was nothing that distracted from listening to what the candidate had to say

Real life examples of distractions have included: open toe shoes with visible blue nail polish, pierced ears with earrings for men, and no suit/jacket. Falling down the last 2 stairs while being escorted to an interview did NOT count as distracting – and the candidate got the offer!

The lesson learned here is to always wear a suit/jacket and make sure your accessories do not distract!

As for what firms are looking for when they mention “inspires confidence” in their job description, in probing this further, here’s what I have heard:

  • “I can see this candidate walking into a Partner’s office and the Partner wants to hear what this person has to say.”
  • “This candidate speaks in a manner where their experience and knowledge is apparent and they can command respect at a Partners’ meeting.”
  • “They know when to listen and when to speak, and they ask the right questions.”

I have seen candidates – with on-point experience – not get the offer because they were lacking in professional presentation or did not inspire confidence. In probing what these traits look like, I believe that we can develop these critical career behaviors in the same way we develop our writing and technical skills.


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