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The Poise Is Right

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Why do job seekers fail to get past the interview stage despite a diploma and an impressive resume?

Just because you are a character doesn’t mean you have character.

Abbygale Arenas-de Leon“Come to think of it, we are very educated. We work hard. But how come our employment rate is so low?,” asks Personifi Image Studio Inc. managing director Abbygale Arenas-de Leon in an interview after her Professional Essence: Business Etiquette and Social Protocol seminar. “That’s because our fresh graduates don’t know how to present themselves during an interview.

While it’s faulty generalization to blame the country’s unemployment problem—Latest figures show it at 7.5%, or some 2.8 million Filipinos—it may be part of the problem.

More alarming is that 49.2% of the unemployed population is mostly composed of fresh graduates. The percentage represents Filipinos 15–24 years old. Apart from job-skill mismatch, the possibility that applicants don’t know how to handle themselves during an interview or can’t co-exist with coworkers when they’re hired can be part of the equation.

A survey conducted by the Philippine Management Association of the Philippines last year shows 40% of job seekers fail their interviews. Most applicants fail not because they are incompetent, but because they don’t have the behavioral competencies required of them like initiative, communication, and critical thinking.

Arenas-de Leon, who represented the Philippines at the 1997 Miss Universe pageant, proposes image enhancement as a possible solution. Armed with 12 years of experience giving lectures on image enhancement, Arenas-de Leon, also a former model for Paris-based Elite Model Management, knows what she’s talking about.

“You have to be conscious of your image and that’s all it takes. Why would you settle for anything less? You have to do your best to make a good impression,” she says. After all, first impressions last.

According to Arenas-de Leon, the thing about first impressions is that it only takes six to eight seconds to make one. A first impression has three components: non-verbal signals account for 55%, the tone of your voice makes up 38%, and what you actually say accounts for 7%.

She says one trick to making good first impressions is to SOFTEN: Smile, Open Stance, Forward Lean, Touch, Eye Contact, and Nod.

Arenas-de Leon demonstrates the right way to smile, done by mouthing the word ‘eight.’ It doesn’t stretch your lips that much and doesn’t make you look wacky.

The right way to stand is by standing straight as if leaning your back against a wall, and putting your weight on both feet. She also demonstrates the right way to lean forward during a conversation while looking profession- al.

Perhaps most important of all, she teaches seminar attendees how to do the most basic—yet most complex— social gesture, the handshake.

The handshake plays an important role simply because it starts and ends any business transaction. It should only last for two to three seconds, and should start and end crisply. If overdone or not done firmly, it can give the impression of lacking confidence. Making eye contact at least 65% of the time is also a must, she says.

Arenas-de Leon also points out the dont’s. Playing with one’s hair, sliding on your seat or swiveling the chair, scratching, resting your face on the hand or fingers telegraph uncertainty. Nail biting, tapping the feet, and yawning indiscreetly also send the same message. These are things most of us do out of habit, and we fail to realize that these things make us look insecure and nervous.

“I was a probinsyana. I grew up in Pampanga. I didn’t study in those big universities. I’m not special, but I believed I could stand up and make a mark. I really think imaging is a big boost for anyone,” Arenas-De Leon says.

Aside from giving lectures, she’s also writing a book on image enhancement called Professional Image Development. The book is intended as a manual for fresh grads and those on a job hunt.

By making her image enhancement manuals widely available, Arenas-de Leon hopes students will learn how to carry themselves and sit through a job interview. And that the 450,000 who graduate from Philippine schools each year a better chance at employment. Also, world peace.

Print ed: 06/10


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