I recently heard Christine Comaford speak at a huge event in New York City. This dynamic multi-millionaire entrepreneur and author of “Rules for Renegades” spoke of her early career days when she had her own technology consulting firm. Things weren’t going well. After being rejected 35 times in a row, she decided to check out the competition to find out why they were successful. She discovered that there was a certain look her competitors had that she didn’t. She concluded that her prospects didn’t trust her because they didn’t feel comfortable, so she made appropriate changes to her own image.
Once she changed her image, she started closing sales left and right. So what changes did she make? She bought a navy blue suit, a pair of fake glasses and a fake wedding ring, plus she tamed her wildly-curly hair by pinning it back.
What is magic about those specific items? First of all, dark colors convey authority, and dark blue in particular conveys both trust and power. That’s why it is the “corporate uniform.” As for the pair of fake glasses, there is one pair of glasses in particular that I call Smart Girl glasses. They are like the tortoise shell glasses that many attorneys wear. While Comaford didn’t reveal the style of glasses that she chose, it can be assumed that they gave the then 29-year-old woman a more mature or serious look.
The fake wedding ring could also have given her the appearance of maturity or stability. Many young people are out partying at night with other young singles, and it is likely that the combination of being single and having wild hair could lead others to think that you are a party girl rather than a serious businesswoman.
When it comes to image, the devil is in the details, and there are other serious image mistakes that career women make in addition to the ones that Christine Comaford made. Young women under 30 typically wear the “uniform” of their Millennia generation and it shouts “young, inexperienced woman.” This uniform consists of skin-tight low-rise pants with flared legs. It is accompanied by a shrunken jacket worn with a frilly lingerie-type top underneath. Because you look like everyone else your age, you will also be perceived to be ordinary. To get out of this mold, consider wearing a skirted suit for important occasions and notice the difference. Don’t forget to add a pair of plain pumps to look more mature and sophisticated.
Generation Y may sometimes wear pants to work, but they aren’t likely to resemble the club attire that Millennias wear. Perhaps because they were nearly weaned on Power Dressing, they are less likely to let their image down than the younger generation. Like Baby Boomers, they are more likely to let their image down with a dated hair style. More than any other generation, they are inclined to be non-conformists, so Gen Y may need to resist dressing for shock appeal if they are in a competitive corporate environment.
Hair holds many a professional woman back, just as it did with Christine Comaford. For those under 30, it is long “teenage” hair that makes you look “green” and inexperienced. It isn’t necessary to cut your hair short. Getting a professional-looking cut is all that is necessary.
Subsequent generations tend to have “wash and wear” styles that look like they washed it and let it dry in the car on the way to work. All too many have frumpy, dated styles. A serious professional is serious not only in her work but with her appearance. Disheveled hair suggests carelessness in general, and it can pigeonhole you in that category at work. Dated-looking hair suggests that your products or services are also dated, and this can seriously impact your career success.
Hair styles that look too wild can suggest that you are a non-conformist and not a team player, so it may be necessary to tame your hair, as Comaford did, if you want to elicit immediate trust and credibility. Comaford’s field was I.T., an industry that is often thought of as more laid back and casual. However, garnering trust as a sales person requires looking honest, trustworthy and state of the art, so even I.T. sales people may need to look a little less non chalant than their peers in the office.
Of course, creative arenas reward creative looks in general, so nearly anything goes for you when it comes to hair, except a frumpy or dated hair style.
Begin the New Year by making the decision to be judged as a serious business woman, not an inexperienced teen, a party girl, or a lackadaisical lady. Your self esteem and your bottom line will benefit!
Sandy Dumont is a seasoned image consultant, speaker and writer who can help you realize your dreams by helping you create a “dream-come-true” image for yourself or your employees. Look for her upcoming book, “Powerful Women Don’t Wear Pink” in late 2009. For more information, please visit www.theimagearchitect.com.