A friendly and competent IT manager is popular with her staff. But feedback from higher level job interviews suggest a lack of gravitas. Can coaching help?

The Issue

Sheila is an experienced senior manager in an IT company. She is based in London, but is originally from the US. She is competent, experienced, warm and extremely approachable. Her style has served her well in building relationships with the people she manages.

Over the past few months she has been applying for executive positions and has had three interviews. All were unsuccessful. The feedback says she comes across as competent, but it’s perceived she lacks the authority or gravitas to lead at this level and to deal with potential conflicts with other senior leaders.

She acknowledges that she was uncomfortable in these interviews and did not feel like the people interviewing her were people with whom she would work well. She found them to be conservative and felt she could not relate to them on a more personal level.

Nevertheless, Sheila wants to find a way in future interviews to come across in a stronger manner so she can secure the role she desires at executive level.

Sheila wants to work with a coach to support her in obtaining an executive role at this level and is “willing to try” working in organisations that she perceives as more steely and less collaborative.

She is unclear why she continues to get this feedback about her credibility and wants to see what she can do to come across in a more powerful way.


The Interventions

Sarah Dawrant, Career coach and trainer

There are two potential ways I would work with Sheila: we could work on what she projects on the outside or on what is most important on the inside.

Assuming Sheila is competent and the only thing standing in her way is a perceived lack of gravitas, I would work with her on her personal impact and body language. We would do in-person training and roleplay.

There are a number of behaviours, such as constant smiling, excessive nodding and tilting one’s head that many females do without being aware of it.

Unfortunately, enthusiastic body language can work against females in the corporate world. These changes are not intended to fundamentally alter who she is, but rather offer her a wider selection of options for how she comes across during interviews.

I would video record her so she can see how she comes across in different situations, such as entering and leaving a room, shaking hands and responding to questions.

In watching these recordings, Sheila will gain awareness of the impact of smiling less, using more pauses and noticing how she holds her head. Often, adding stillness and pausing can make a world of difference. These sound like small things, but it is often what has the biggest impact.

The other way I would work with Sheila would be to check in where there is a values clash between herself and these organisations.

There appears to be low resonance when Sheila talks about these companies. I would ask her to look forward and get a sense for what her long-term satisfaction level will be if she feels she constantly has to wear a mask at work. Masks can be exhausting.

Sheila can adjust her personal impact or consider if she would rather find a company where that would not be required.


Karen Cappello, International Coach Federation Master Certified Coach

Since Sheila wants to work in an organisation that she perceives as steely and less collaborative, I would explore this with her. I would want to know what personal values such a company would honour.

If she had a strong value that would be satisfied by working in a company like this (such as providing financially for her family), then I would work with her to increase her effectiveness in the interview process.

We could roleplay and determine what changes Sheila could make to come across with more authority. We could also reverse-roleplay, where she is the interviewer and interviews someone who has a strong sense of authority.

She could also watch YouTube videos of leaders who handle personal conflicts well and model their attitude and body language. In addition, we could use neurolinguistic programming to anchor in a state of gravitas before scheduling future interviews.

I believe these suggested solutions could help Sheila with the interview process, especially if she has a strong value alignment with getting this specific job.

However, if she realises that she is not honouring her values with these types of companies in her initial exploration, we could take a different approach.

Sheila could conduct extensive background research and only apply to specific IT companies that align with her values. When applying, she would be more familiar with the company and potentially have more confidence during an interview.

If she secured a job, Sheila would feel that she could work well with her colleagues and perform to the best of her ability.

Once Sheila becomes aware of the choices she has, she can decide what works best for her. Either way, aligning her choice with her values will help her feel fulfilled in whatever job she takes.

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