GE Leadership Series: Workplace Advice from Working Executives

GE Leadership Series: Workplace Advice from Working Executives
August 29, 2013 at 09:08am

Like the first lines of a book, an article… or even a blog post, first impressions are formed quickly and have a big impact. And there’s no better source of advice on how to make a good impression — whether at a job interview, a meeting or a presentation — than from people who work hard every day on projects that matter. Continuing our series of interviews with GE executives in the region, we ask five leaders what they think about first impressions, job interviews, meeting preparation and Generation Y.

For Wayne Davies, Senior Executive in Human Resources for GE Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, first impressions are definitely important. “Subconsciously, we as human beings are constantly monitoring our environment and the people that we encounter. I don’t agree with the theory that interviews are won or lost in the first few minutes, but it’s certainly possible to give yourself a great head start by making a positive impression at the outset.” However, he adds that, “content and values matter most, and that’s what I aim to get to in interviewing.

The job interview

When interviewing job candidates, Wayne looks out for how candidates present themselves. “Is the candidate smart, well presented and generally looking sharp?” In body language, “do they seem relaxed, at ease with themselves and confident in an understated manner but never arrogant? Do they possess good manners and smile upon introduction?” Do they arrive on time, “or ideally a few minutes early.”

Adding to this, Sofiane Ben Tounes, President and CEO of GE North East Africa, says that these first impressions are shaped in the first minute of a meeting, and that especially with clients, sometimes there is no second chance. One tip, he says is to try your best to be natural. “You can never fake the first impression, so don’t think about how you can impress the person in front of you; focus on being yourself.”

Rania Rostom, Vice President of Innovation and Communications, for GE in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, agrees that first impressions can be decisive. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” she says, adding that making a great first impression has two parts: “First is how you carry yourself, and that is everything from dress code to demeanor. Second is to do your homework. ‘Attention’ is the currency you want, and it is in limited supply due to people’s increasingly hectic calendars. So be concise and courteous.”

Preparing for presentations

GE executives agree that an important part of a first impression is being well prepared. “Don’t wing it!” says Ron Herman, CEO Mubadala GE Capital. “Prepare by thinking about what questions might come up. Also, the requests and recommendations in your presentation need to be clear, and you need to have data that backs up what you say.” Rania agrees, saying that you should be clear on the objectives of the meeting, the desired outcomes and the three things you would like your audience to remember.

Ron also says, “Relax while presenting. Be yourself and believe in yourself.”

When presenting, Mohammed Mohaisen, Executive in Regional Sales, GE Power Generation Equipment and Services, also advises young employees to maintain their self-confidence. Also, “understand what message you’re trying to send. Don’t just do it to impress, but to convince them with the content you’re sharing.”

Sofiane says that successful presentations require knowing the presentation material “inside and out,” otherwise “you are perceived as shallow, and you lose your credibility right away.”

For meetings, he says you should try to learn as much as possible about who you are meeting, such as the languages they speak, and whether they are married or have children. “We’re all human beings, so when you know the person you are presenting to well, you can easily tailor things in a way that he or she can relate to.”

‘The sun is going to come up tomorrow’

Meetings and presentations are one source of workplace stress, but whatever the source of anxiety, Ron says you should remember, “Nothing ‘wrong’ you do, or mistake you make, is going to end the world. Put things in perspective. I always say, ‘The sun is going to come up tomorrow.’ Knowing that things will get better and that problems will be solved helps you deal with anxiety.”

He says that as a CEO, he has an obligation to make the workplace environment more fun and relaxed, and to encourage employees to speak up.

Exercising is a good way to help manage stress, Ron adds, but ultimately, it is crucial to do a job that you love. “Find your passion and follow it. If you love something you won’t find it stressful.”

‘Generation Y’

Pursuing what you love is just what Generation Y employees are doing, says Wayne. By contrast, when he and his generation entered the job market, the focus was job security, good income and “prospects.” Today’s young job candidates “are driven by working for organizations with a sincere sense of purpose in what they do, a strong CSR value proposition, very transparent cultural drivers, and a very collaborative, fun and engaging working environment.”

Mohammed observes that some young employees “want to take the next step before they learn and contribute enough where they are.” He advises young people to learn to do their current job well and to “take every opportunity to learn – even outside the responsibilities assigned to you. Don’t be shy of saying that you don’t know how to do something. No matter how ‘big’ you are, you will never stop learning.”

Everyone agrees that the Internet plays an important role, Wayne says, adding that many companies use social media and technology to attract talent. He advises candidates to keep in mind what potential employers can see of their online presence. “I often recommend that people ‘Google’ themselves to see what potential employers – and other organizations – may be able to see about you.”

“Ensure your online presence represents the personal brand that you wish to portray. I also encourage hiring managers to be ‘present’ in some way, whether Twitter, LinkedIn or any other social media tool, since candidates today want to check out the person they may be working for,” Wayne says. Pushing this point further, Rania says that we should each think of ourselves as a “brand.”

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