In a recent interview, Stephen Viscusi, author of “Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride Out the Rough Times and Come Out on Top at Work,” spoke about the most important things you can do to ensure that you do not get laid off in today’s economy. Viscusi, who is billed as America’s Workplace Guru, is quick to point out that his book is designed to save you from your worst enemy at work – you.
Number one on the list is look good. Viscusi confirms my 30 years research: that even if your company has a business casual policy, you should dress upward. Viscusi suggests taking a general cue from the Big Bosses in terms of style, and then aim carefully to dress a notch or so above your colleagues. The way you look and dress tells your boss how serious you are about yourself and your job.
If no one else is wearing a tie, don’t worry about looking like a show-off by being the only one in your office to wear one. A number of my clients have reported that when they began wearing a tie to work, almost overnight others began doing the same. If you are a female, start wearing a jacket instead of a sweater or blouse with your skirts or pants. If your colleagues are all wearing pants, wear a skirt and heels. Skirts are more formal, and consequently more serious, than pants. Above all, Viscusi says you must avoid: ill-fitting, loud, tarty or otherwise inappropriate clothing.
While you don’t want to dress better than the Big Boss, you do want to dress at the same level of your immediate boss. If your male supervisor wears business casual attire, dress upward by avoiding khakis and polos; wear dark dress trousers instead, along with a crisp business shirt in French blue or a pencil stripe in a business color.
Your attire should always say that you are serious about who you are and what you do. Don’t be surprised that by dressing in a more serious manner, you actually become more serious at work. The way you dress defines who you are not only to others, but to the person in the mirror when you leave the house each morning.
Viscusi highly recommends getting “as expensive a haircut as you can afford.” Your hair frames your face, and it is an important part of who you are. I’ve noticed that women, in particular, shoot themselves in the foot with outdated hairstyles or unkempt styles that suggest a careless attitude. Ask a friend to give you feedback about your hair.
The last image tip from Viscusi was to “splurge on an excellent pair of shoes and high quality accessories, too.” Women have more options than men do with shoes, but my advice is to stick to plain pumps. Avoid stilettos, because they may come across as too sexy. Two-inch or thee-inch heels should suffice; and if you have a bad back or bad feet, there are plenty of pumps with lower heels. Men look the classiest in a pair of slim-toed wing tips or cap toes in black. Both men and women should avoid shoes with square toes, as they make you look clumsy.
Stephen Viscusi’s four simples strategies are (1) be visible; (2) be easy; (3) be useful; and (4) be ready. Image is included under the umbrella “be visible.” He suggests that you make sure your boss knows you, because you are easy to fire if you are unknown. I would add that extraordinary-looking people are noticed and remembered more easily than ordinary looking ones. Take the time to dress in a polished and professional manner each day so that the Big Boss will notice you.
Here are a few quick tips from Viscusi about the other three categories:
Be Easy: Don’t complain; leave family problems at home. Be flexible; be willing to bend and go with the flow instead of fighting it. Cheerfully offer to pitch in as needed. Don’t gossip.
Be Useful: Represent your company by attending conference and seminars that the boss avoids like the plague. Don’t skip events, arrive late, leave early, or exhibit negative behavior at conferences. Mentor other employees. Support your boss by paying attention to what she needs, likes, doesn’t like, and then shaping your own attitude and behavior to reflect that.
Be Ready: Having money in the bank will give you a million dollars worth of confidence. It gives you a secret sense of security and an air of self-sufficiency that suggests you are sure of your abilities and locked in for the long haul.
Sandy Dumont is an image consultant who speaks on the subject of image from coast to coast. For more information, please visit www.theimagearchitect.com.