At some stage when I am prepping clients for an interview, I often need to raise the issue of their appearance.This is never easy. The choices that we make each day about how we present ourselves to others are, of course, totally valid in our own eyes and it can be quite confronting to hear someone suggest that we make a change.
Before you dismiss this blog as the ranting of a Presentation Conservative, as a matter of principal, I have always tried to look beyond the superficialities of how people choose to present themselves to others.
No Right or Wrong, just Perception and Consequences
You can argue that it’s shallow and that it’s unworthy, but most of us do judge people, at least initially, by how they present themselves.
I often say that when it comes to our image, there’s no right or wrong, just perception and consequences. If you are prepared to buck the system, I’ll applaud you all the way, but it can be a dangerous strategy.
Some years ago, I can remember interviewing someone for a role. He turned up in a cardigan, looking very bland and meek. I was able to look past his clothes but unfortunately for him, my business partner was not, and he missed out on the role.
One of my clients was wanting to move up from senior manager level to Executive level. She was quite shocked when I recommended that she leave off her bohemian style of dressing and start wearing more formal clothes.
Does your “look” work for you or against you?
So how do you know if your “look” is working for you or against you in the world of work?
I think that it all boils down to finding someone who is very experienced in this area and who is brave enough to tell you as it is, in a supportive non-confrontational way. And I think that your advisor needs to drill down into the reality that you face and the outcome that you are trying to achieve e.g. what are the norms of the industry that you operate in, what advantages/disadvantages do you personally bring, what level of seniority are you targeting.
Sometimes, I talk about the basics. If I am working with a male senior executive, for example, I might advise that he gets his hair cut, buys a modern suit, as well as a shirt and tie that are “sharp”.
Sometimes, my client and I get down to very micro issues. I recently advised a young female accountant applying for a role to an international accounting firm to wear her hair in a French roll rather than a ponytail. (She was very slight and delicate-looking and I wanted her to convey a bit more gravitas).
A few other examples, show how fundamental some of the issues can be
1. My query to a technical specialist about the difference between his LinkedIn photo and his current appearance (an unkempt bearded look) which allowed us to introduce the idea of cleaning it up
2. My advice to a senior manager to change his entire work wardrobe (much to his wife’s delight) to present a stronger image at his current workplace
All of the consultants in our team here at The Career Consultancy tackle these issues on a regular basis. On a personal level, it would be easier for us to let our clients continue on their merry way, but it would be an abdication of our duty. So we do it.
What to do in the absence of a skilled career specialist?
Find an astute friend. It needs to be someone who:
1. Presents skilfully to the outside world
2. Understands what marketplace you operate in
3. Notices what you are doing down to the most nuanced level AND who is
4. Brave enough to talk to you about it.
Personal brand is one of the current buzz concepts around at the moment. And, the appearance that you present to the external working world is a critical part of your persona, your personal brand.
What message are you currently sending???
aBOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Cunningham is Adelaide's leading career expert. She appears regularly in The Weekend Australian Careers section, in The Advertiser's CareerOne, as well as in online publications such as news.com.au, thenewdaily.com.au and womensagenda.com.au