Why Your Professional Image Matters

Spruce Up Your Personal Packaging: Why Your Professional Image Matters

Do you remember the scene in the movie “In Pursuit of Happyness” with actor Will Smith when he arrives for his panel interview in paint-stained work pants and wrinkled shirt? He had unfortunately been arrested the day before for not paying parking tickets and spent the night in jail. Dirty, weary, but determined, the character Christopher Gardner pulls himself together and presents himself to the hiring panel for consideration in the Dean Witter stockbroker internship program.

This of course is an extreme situation and one that no business professional I know would ever want to be in. It flies in the face of the basic success principle “dress for success.” Yet overly casual, borderline sloppy appearance seems to be tolerated in many schools, colleges and work places. Is this the new norm? Is this a fashion trend that we must embrace?

Dressing up for networking
When you are meeting face to face with people for the purposes of networking, I encourage you to dress professionally. Think about what you are wearing and how you are wearing it. The professional image that you portray during that networking meeting will send a strong visual communication to the other person. People derive meaning from your appearance, just like they do any other kind of non-verbal communication. So the question is what are you signaling with your dress and appearance?

And how will that communication and consideration impact the outcome of your networking meeting?

Here are seven tips for polishing your professional image for greater career and business success:

1. Tailor your clothes to fit and flatter your current body. No matter what size or shape you currently are, your clothes should fit you and make you look good. Don’t allow yourself to wear pants that are too long, too loose or too tight. If you buy ready-to-wear clothing from the store, invest a little more to have those clothes tailored to fit your body. Find and build a relationship with a good tailor. It’s a lost art these days, but you’ll want a tailor on your success team.

2. Get a hair cut. Sometimes it’s hard to schedule the time for a professional hair cut. It can also be expensive, especially if you are coloring your hair or having special treatments. However, your hair style will be one of the first things people see when they look at your face. It can either make a positive statement, or it can detract from your personal presentation. In my work with women attending the Power Up Your Professional Image  events, I’ve been amazed to see the before/after transformation that result from a good cut and style. Often we get into a rut of how we wear our hair. We default to what is easy to wash and wear. Meanwhile, we might be losing out on an opportunity to make a killer first impression. I also heard a tip from a well-known stylist that most people over wash their hair. He recommended washing your hair not daily, but every 3-5 days. The hair needs the nature oils secreted from our scalp to be healthy and look good. Perhaps the money we save in shampoo and conditioner could be used for regular hair cuts with a professional.

3. Polish those shoes. This has always been my weakness. I hate shoes and rarely attend to them. My feeling is that I can compensate for my footwear weaknesses by holding their attention up high to my face. This belief has caused me to stand taller and have a more expressive face. Yet, people look down and notice your shoes. They just do. My advice: take great care of the shoes you have. Get a cobbler on your team. Like the tailor, it’s a dying trade, but an important one. Re-heeling your shoes, polishing them periodically and storing them correctly can make a big difference in your professional image.

4. Take care of your hands. Most of us speak with our hands. They are awesome communication tools. People notice them, especially when we are biting our nails or chewing our cuticles. I recently gave a presentation on public speaking to a classroom of very bright and motivated high school students. One student was constantly chewing on his fingers throughout my talk. I noticed it. I told his adviser that his nervous bad habit is likely to reduce his effectiveness when he pitches his new technology concept to the judging panel in the national competition he is entering. I recommended that as part of the team’s preparation, this student visit a nail salon and have his hands professionally cared for several times before the competition. Manicures are not just for women; men can benefit too from well-groomed hands and nails.

5. Update your eyewear. Eyeglasses are necessary for many people to enjoy good sight. They’re also a wardrobe accessory and make you a good sight to see. There are many stylish choices in frames (sizes, shapes and colors). Trading in your outdated frames for new modern ones could be the image enhancement you need. You might consider losing the frames altogether and switching to contact lenses. In my career, I spent five years working for a contact lens manufacturer. I always wanted to run an ad that said “Lose 5 pounds fast, switch from glasses to contact lenses.”

6. Not too much skin. Let’s face it, cleavage, hip bones and belly buttons are very alluring. They stand out and demand our attention. You can’t flip through a magazine or walk through a retail store without seeing styles that expose us. I’m not trying to be a prude here; I’m trying to protect your career. Unless you are planning on being a super model or a rock star (and good luck with that), showing too much skin at work can derail your career. Wouldn’t you rather get noticed by your ideas and contributions to the business, rather than your sex appeal?

7. Briefcases, Portfolios, Pens. It is paramount that you bring materials with you to any meetings, ready to take notes and jot down action items. Coming unprepared just makes you look bad. Some of you may fancy using your new tablets and iPhones, but nothing beats a pen and paper in my book. Give some thought to what you are pulling out and how it looks. Is your pen/pencil all chewed up? Do you whip out a pen from the local restaurant/hotel or other give-away freebee? What statement are you making with your stationery and writing tools? Something to think about. Briefcases, portfolios and luggage also make a statement about you. I know it’s time to get a new brief case, when I go to pick it up by one handle and the leather strap dangles by one thread. That problem has been with me for the past six months. I keep hoping that no one will notice it, but they do. Oh, they do.

Southworth is holding a contest on their Facebook Page with a prize worth $345. (A basket full of their professional Resume products and a Leather Padfolio that would definitely solve Issue #7). Deadline: March 16, 2012. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/SouthworthCo?sk=app_208195102528120&app_data=dlt

Does all this really matter?

Some of you might be thinking to yourself: “This is all very expensive” and “Is this really necessary?” and “Is this really who I am? Do I care about this superficial stuff? and “Surely my work product will speak for itself.”

We judge products by their packaging, not just their performance. We do the same for people. I want your packaging to be the best it can be. It will help showcase the awesome qualities inside of you.

Your professional image is an asset to your career and business. Care for it, invest it in and it will produce positive return for you. Ignore it and you just might lose out on new career and business opportunities.

I say it’s time to power up your professional image.

About the writer: Kathy McAfee is known as America’s Marketing Motivator and is author of the book Networking Ahead for Business and co-founder of PowerUpYourProfessionalImage.com. In her role as Executive Presentation Coach and Professional Speaker, Kathy helps her clients to become the recognized leaders in their fields by mastering the art of high engagement presentations and more effective networking and connecting. To learn more about Kathy, visit her web site MarketingMotivator.net. To receive free weekly networking tips, sign up at NetworkingAhead.com.

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One Comment

  1. Jane Goldsmith
    Posted March 6, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Hi Kathy,

    You are “spot- on” with your comments about sprucing up one’s image. Usually people refer to that level of detail as being a “Type A” personality. In my opinion, the more detailed one is, the better. Most things work well if one is detail-oriented. In fact, I always say the success is in the details — from dinner parties to meetings to large receptions.

    Best of all, you seem to be so healthy, Kathy. Prayers and strength from friends, family, and skill from great doctors have certainly shown their power.

    I’m so relieved.

    Looking forward to seeing you at the SBIR conference in July.


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