I work with some of the brightest women in the world who spend countless hours on their education, networking endeavors, and seminars — anything to stay competitive and get ahead. Unfortunately, many of them overlook their own visual résumé as part of the package.
I was most surprised recently when I taught a business etiquette seminar to a group of female scientists who told me they didn’t want to look “too attractive or too good” for fear of not being taken seriously by their peers.
Call it “dress for success” or “dress for the job you want” — it’s more than an adage for women. Style and image have played and continue to play a crucial role in the career strategies and trajectories of many high-powered execs. Let’s face it, how you look says a lot about you — whether you’re organized, lazy, fashion-forward, creative or serious.
When you make an effort to present your best self, it shows respect for your employer, your job, and the career strata in which you aspire. When you dress sloppy, you send the message that your comfort and the way you like to dress are more important than your potential audience. Yes, it’s important to know how to close a deal, but when you also dress well, you command the respect of your peers and communicate the kinds of business opportunities you’d like to have.
You may think that focusing on appearance as part of your career strategy sounds superficial — that we should be judged for our intelligence and experience, not our style. But will someone really want to listen to you if you look dull, boring, meek, and frumpy? Sure, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but sadly, that’s not how the workforce works.
When you look good, you feel great. You feel the authority, the professionalism, and the respect internally, and you project that out onto the world.
Here are five tips to help you enhance your overall professional image:
Carry a quality pen. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a pen but it should look attractive and write well. One of my favorites is my Waterman fountain pen because of the size, weight, and way it glides smoothly across the paper.
Invest in a few good suits. When you put on a suit, you assume the role that comes with it. You will find that you walk a little taller and have more confidence. Whenever you wear a suit you give the impression that you’re serious about the business at hand.
Buy quality, not quantity. Purchase good quality “global” clothing, especially for business travel. Select lightweight, breathable fabrics that don’t wrinkle easily and can be worn in multiple climates. It will be more cost efficient in the long run if you purchase suits made from fabrics such as wool or a wool-blend that can be successfully worn to a meeting in San Francisco and still look appropriate in New York, London or Singapore. Colors such as black, navy, and taupe are professional, travel well, and don’t look seasonal. Showcase your personality while adding a pop of color with your accessories.
Beware of bulky baggage. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how well dressed you are if your accessories look shabby and well worn. A bag overstuffed with papers can give people the impression that you are disorganized and sloppy. Your briefcase does more than just hold important papers, a wallet, and cell phone. It holds clues about your success, professionalism and personality.
Put your best foot forward. Shoes are your most important accessory because they do more than simply complete your ensemble; good-looking, polished shoes help convey your professional image and attention to detail. Your feet need to last the rest of your life, so take good care of them by wearing the best shoes you can possibly afford.