How important is likeability?
Terms like “likeability trap” and “likeability dilemma” often pop up in discussions about women and likeability. As someone who’s navigated these waters both personally and as a career coach, I know the struggle to balance being likeable without over-pleasing is real.
We all prefer working with likeable people, but how do we walk this “likeability tightrope” without losing ourselves? The key is to turn likeability into our superpower, an ally in enhancing our careers while staying authentic. It’s about hitting that sweet spot where likeability meets genuine self-expression.
Can you learn to be likeable?
Likeability is a strange combination of instinct and learned behaviour. Some people seem to just have it. Some have learned it. Others were very clearly not born with it, and have never put any effort into it (we all probably know at least one of these!).
Whether it’s nature or nurture, when you really look at likeable behaviour, most of the traits are identifiable, which is good news. It means we can analyze our own approach, and make adjustments.
As with so many “tip and trick” topics, you can find various five-, six-, seven-, or even 11-step guides to likeability. If one speaks to you, that’s great. Today I’m going to give you my dos and don’ts, inspired by a Coaching Likeability in Interviews webinar offered by the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.
What should you do (and not do) to be likeable
While these tips can definitely be helpful if you’re looking for a job or a promotion — or are facing any important meeting / interview / appointment — they are also worth considering for your day-to-day encounters with friends, family, and colleagues.
If you’re thinking this one’s too obvious to mention — and if you’re thinking, of course you’re always respectful during important interactions — I would respectfully recommend that you think a little more carefully. Because our intent may always be to show respect, but sometimes that doesn’t fully align with how other people perceive us.
Here are some concrete dos and don’ts to make sure you leave a respectful impression across the board:
- Arrive on time to show respect for others’ schedules — if this is difficult for you, pretend your meeting is 10 minutes earlier than it actually is.
- Dress appropriately for the situation — for an interview this usually means dress as if you’re applying for one position above the one you’re interviewing for.
- Show respect to each person you interact with — not just the person you’re meeting.
- Consider taking notes using a pad of paper to avoid distractions from electronic devices — even a quick glance at your screen could make it seem that you’d rather be elsewhere.
- If you’re not sure whether a story, joke, or statement is appropriate, don’t say it.
- Refrain from looking at your phone, your watch, the clock, or anything else that might make you seem disengaged.
- Don’t interrupt or talk over the person you’re speaking with.
Authenticity as a term is having a moment, with social media influencers, marketers, and personal branding experts falling in love with it. However, it’s quite a simple concept and really just refers to being genuine, true, and honest.
- Display honesty. You can do this in a couple of ways:
- Make sure your resume, LinkedIn profile, and answers you give in an interview are consistent.
- Use specific examples to show your expertise, rather than relying on hyperbole to tell about it.
- Let your natural self shine through by preparing for meetings, interviews, or presentations with bullet points rather than detailed scripts.
- Don’t rely on outdated information or experiences — if you did a job more than ten years ago, be realistic that many things have likely changed since then. It’s fine to refer to older positions, but defer to those who have more recent experience and focus on your current skill set.
- Avoid exaggeration or fabrication when talking about your skills or accomplishments.
Nobody’s saying you have to be a cheerleader, but a little positive energy can turn any conversation from dull to delightful.
- Express genuine interest in the person you’re meeting, their role, and their organization by:
- Conducting research ahead of time about them / their company / their industry.
- Using that research to shape a couple of insightful questions.
- Don’t let low-energy body language or tone of voice let you down — even if you’re not feeling it, a smile goes a long way to help you “fake it ‘til you make it.”
- Don’t procrastinate — follow up promptly on anything that came up during your meeting or interview.
Be open to learning
Embracing a love for learning does more than just expand your knowledge — it showcases your adaptability, creativity, and resilience. It signals that you’re culturally aware, socially savvy, and a problem-solver. All of these are impressive qualities stemming from a simple willingness to learn.
- Ask questions!
- Share examples of times when you learned new skills or adapted to changes.
- Discuss instances when you received and acted on feedback.
- Come up with a thoughtful response to the dreaded “weakness” interview question, by highlighting a learning moment and mindset.
- Avoid a “been there, done that, learned all I can” vibe.
- Don’t reject constructive criticism or feedback.
- Don’t forget to seek out different perspectives and experiences.
Owning up to our slip-ups makes us human and earns respect. After all, we all know nobody’s perfect, and there’s something quite remarkable about someone who can say, ‘I messed up, and here’s how I fixed it.'”
- Talk about times when you owned up to mistakes and learned from them.
- Share examples of taking initiative.
- Explain how you’ve turned negatives into positives.
- Don’t blame others for your mistakes or failures.
- Avoid inability to acknowledge or discuss past errors.
- Don’t treat a meeting or interview as an opportunity for “the airing of grievances.”
Any time you feel you’re being evaluated or judged, it can be stressful. However, most people want to connect. When you think of it that way, there are some simple “dos” that will help build relationships.
- Practice active listening and engagement.
- Engage in small talk to establish rapport.
- If possible, research the person you’re meeting — read their bio or their LinkedIn profile — and find common ground or interests.
- Build better rapport by matching the other person’s energy level.
Redefining likeability: beyond the stereotypes
Sometimes likeability gets a bad rap — when people associate it with lack of assertiveness, people-pleasing, or weakness. A more positive way to consider likeability is as a balance of kindness, authenticity, and assertiveness that respects both yourself and others.
The best news is many of the things that make you likeable — using positive non-verbal cues like good posture and smiling, as well as reframing negative experiences with a positive spin — can also make you happier and more confident.