The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the US unemployment rate as of September 2009 is a whopping 9.8%, and another 263,000 jobs were lost this past month. Most experts agree that the economy is stabilizing, but that’s not much comfort to those worried about looking for or holding onto a job. Doesn’t it feel like many employers are looking for ways to maximize productivity while minimizing staff? How do you ensure that when the CEO looks at you, the first thing he or she thinks is “maximize” and not “minimize”? Studies show that presenting a polished and professional image really does pay, and here are valuable strategies that will help you get polished, get noticed and get ahead!
Strategy #1: Rein in that hair. Younger women should steer clear of the long, curled, cascading big-hair look. It may look attractive in a shampoo ad, but it is not appropriate for the workplace. We instinctively take such a woman less seriously because we’re focused on her attractiveness rather than her professionalism. Men do best with classic short haircuts and should be careful about sporting a beard, mustache or goatee. Most styles of facial hair can make a man look older or, conversely, amateurish. The whole idea with hair is that it should compliment and highlight the face without being a distraction.
Strategy #2: Look authoritative. Women should avoid the “girly look” – pastels and floral prints. They take away power and make a woman look more like she should fetch coffee for the rest of the staff rather than lead the meeting. Tailored suits in classy colors always make a great impression. Men should stick with classic suit combinations and avoid “fashion looks”. Brightly colored dress shirts with matching ties don’t convey trust or authority. The best combination is a white or French blue shirt with a contrasting tie and navy blue suit. Make sure that the shirt, tie or suit has some subtle pattern to avoid looking boring – three solid colors appear flat and uninteresting.
Strategy #3: Choose colors wisely. People trust grey to be a safe business color, but it can also look passive. The last thing you want to look like is a passive, ho-hum employee! Both men and women look best in black, navy blue or even charcoal grey suits. Women have more options with the rest of the spectrum – a man cannot get away with wearing a vibrant red suit! Both men and women should avoid flashy “food” colors like orange and lime green. Remember: the darker the color, the higher the authority.
Strategy #4: Keep shoes simple. Something’s wrong with your image if people feel compelled to look at your feet instead of your face, and that includes making sure your shoes are always clean and polished. Dirty, scuffed shoes attract the eye just as quickly as gaudy shoes.
Strategy #5: Buy quality rather than quantity. This is good news in a down economy. For women, it is truly better to have one pair of black pants and a black skirt that fit properly and can be teamed with various jackets and tops, rather than having a dozen ill-fitting suits in various styles. You may think that suit is a “great bargain”, but if it doesn’t have a tailored fit, you’ll look frumpy and that’s what people will notice. Men should have at least one good navy blue suit. Two-button styles are more flattering than three-button, and the look can be changed dramatically by your choices of shirt and tie. Additional suits in black and charcoal are also great choices.
Strategy #6: Smile and stand up straight. Don’t be a frowner - your mother was right that your face could stick that way! If you don’t smile often it shows in the lines of your face (as you age) and the lack of enthusiasm in your voice when you speak on the phone. Having good posture automatically lifts your mood and conveys confidence and determination in both your appearance and your voice. On the other hand, drooping shoulders suggest heavy burdens and a feeling of defeat. What CEO wants a droopy-shouldered frowner on his team?
Robert Cialdini, PhD notes that we often use shortcuts in our decision-making; consequently, we think “Looking Good = Good”. A polished image conveys credibility, reliability and professionalism to your co-workers, upper management, and clients. Use these strategies to instantly say it all without saying a word, and you may be surprised as new career opportunities unfold.
Sandy Dumont is an image consultant and author of several eBooks on the subject of image. She also speaks to audiences here and abroad about the power of image skills. Visit her website for more image tips and a free book: www.theimagearchitect.com.