How to spot a leader in 10 seconds or less, according to 3 experts

The first job interview is about more than making a favorable first impression. It’s also a great opportunity for job candidates to show off subtle signs that they have leadership potential. Maybe they already have a proven background as a leader with years of experience and a stunning portfolio in their field. Or, they may possess a hunger that shows with the proper training and mentoring they will rise to the occasion. How do you know if you’re meeting with a true leader? In 10 seconds or less, you’ll know you’re meeting with a capable individual if they exhibit these leadership signs.

1. They come prepared, even if they’re nervous

This is about more than dressing nicely and arriving on-time for the interviewGreat leaders come appropriately prepared for meetings. It’s an unspoken leadership rule of thumb that the applicant will bring along a notebook, take notes, and have interesting, thoughtful questions to ask during the interview.

Is it possible you can still be nervous even if you come prepared? Of course. But there are also ways you can avoid getting too caught up with the butterflies in your stomach. Katie Kuchta, Marketing Manager at LawnStarter Lawn Care, says candidates can still actively listen and take notes even if they feel a little nervous. Note-taking, in turn, helps create talking points for thank you emails to your interviewers and future following interviews.

2. They understand their strengths and weaknesses

Potential leaders often have a keen understanding of their own narrative. They arrive ready to talk about their biggest career wins and great character traits they bring to the table. They’re also not shy about admitting when they went through challenges or experienced learning lessons.

Mistakes — especially those admitted out loud — act as a subtle hint that a candidate may become a good leader, according to Kuchta.

“As a manager myself, I admire candidates that share something that helped them grow into something better,” Kuchta says. “I’ve failed plenty of times at things and I am happy to share my mistakes with everyone I lead. But, I always learn from my mistakes and continue to learn without making those mistakes again. In my opinion, that’s what being a leader is about. Share mistakes and lessons learned from them, and then help those you lead to do it even better.”

3. They are physically focused on you

How do you stay focused? Leah Bonvissuto, Founder of PresentVoices, coaches candidates for their job interviews. Bonvissuto says that more often than not, hiring managers seek out intangible traits. These traits, like confidence, are then used to determine if someone has the ability to lead.

One behavior that absolutely kills confidence? Excessive physical movement. Candidates should avoid certain micromovements, like constantly picking at your fingernails, playing with your hair, or swiveling in your chair, that make them look less confident.

If you need to look somewhere during your interview, maintain eye contact with your interviewer. Make it a point to also display steady body language, too. Practicing both behaviors, according to Bonvissuto, will increase the amount of confidence others have in you. You’re focused in one direction, which is exactly where they need you to go.

4. They’re kind of a big deal

There’s something about this candidate that feels a little familiar and recognizable. Perhaps you have several connections in common on LinkedIn. Maybe you went to their website portfolio and recognized the outlets their work has been featured in or the brands they worked with. You might even follow them on Twitter! They may not be a household name yet, but they are active in their industry and making a mark for themselves.

This is exactly the leader-in-training interviewers need to meet with. Henna Pryor, Executive Coach and Career Strategist at Pryority Group, says one of the best ways to spot a professional is to discuss how they challenge themselves. Maybe they took courses to become a yoga instructor or started successfully pursuing freelance writing. Or, they took a few French classes and discovered they’d rather study Italian. Whether they hit or missed, they gave it their all. And, guess what? They’re still going strong as chameleons in their own right, dabbling in exciting side hustles and hobbies to see what works.

“If you want to be remembered, you have to try things that your peers are too afraid to try,” Pryor says. “Those who leave a mark on this world are often those who tried something difficult, failed and dusted themselves off to try again.”

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A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.

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