Gravitas... What is it? Do you have it? How to demonstrate it.

Published: 19 May 2016

As an Executive Search Specialist there is one quality I am always looking for in candidates… Gravitas.   I’m struggling to think of a time that I was given a brief for a role when my client didn’t use the word “Gravitas” as one of the key characteristics of their desired employee.  

The definition of Gravitas may surprise you.  The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “Dignity, seriousness, or solemnity of manner.”  Hmm, is this really what my clients want?  I’m not sure that this is the right term. I’m confident that they don’t want a solemn, serious face brought in to inspire their business or drive growth. I’m not being contrite, I know what they mean and what they want, but what does it really mean in today’s society?  

I asked some respected colleagues about what Gravitas meant to them: 

“A deep routed confidence without arrogance.  The ability to challenge without being unnecessarily adversarial.”

“Strong opinions, seriously held, based on solid experience”  

“Weight and authority” “Maturity” “Considered, intellectual thinking” 

It seems to me that someone with gravitas is someone with a respected view that others want to hear. They walk into a room and instantly engage without being overbearing.  With these characteristics they are better able to influence, challenge and ultimately lead.  

So, how do you demonstrate gravitas in that first 90 minute interview? 

Firstly, help yourself to instantly engage.  Look the part - I’m not about to outline exactly what type of suit to wear - the point is your first impact and the image you present is important and you can’t make it twice so make the effort. Do your due diligence on the company, the interviewers, the role and most importantly think about your relevant experience and your view.

Articulate your experience in a clear, confident and effective manner.  What was the situation?  Why you took the action you did.  Who did you need to engage and what was the (positive) outcome?  If it wasn’t positive or as good as you would have liked, what could you have done differently and why? 

Think about the challenges of the company and the role.  Based on your experience or on research you have done, what would you do if appointed?   There will likely be a few slightly more difficult individuals in a business so think about how you will engage, unite and lead them.  Consider the experience you have acquired that outlines your ability to deliver this.  Think about the key stakeholders you will need to deal with.  How will you approach each different situation and how might you deliver a message someone doesn’t want to hear?  

Lastly, have the belief in yourself.  You have been selected by the search specialist and the client to interview because you do have the proven ability and experience to deliver in that role.  Your view matters to them so take the time to think about exactly what it is and be confident in articulating it.

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