Dressing for success – how your image can help you achieve more professionally

I’m sure you must have heard of corporate branding – the development of a company’s image that reflects its values and makes it easily recognisable with the kind of customers it’s after. Since time immemorial, man has used his appearance for the purpose of showing off wealth, power, association, etc. Clearly, image is an instant and effective communication tool. As Miuccia Prada once said: ‘Fashion is instant language.’

The way we dress, our hairstyle, any jewellery we put on, the condition of our skin, amongst others, are factors on which others make snap judgments on the nature of our job, our rank, the kind of person we must be, and the lifestyle we lead; factors which trigger associations with pre-conceived ideas that are not always correct. Therefore, the question to be asked is: how do those who do not know us yet, or know very little about us but on whom our career prospects depend interpret our image?

Take a look at the image below, who’s the assistant, the executive, or the student?

What the research says

Studies constantly show that good-looking people – as in what are considered ideal looks – stand a better chance of earning a higher income. It starts from standing a better chance in interviews to being considered for a promotion, as as a result of e.g. better sales. Bigger women and short men are particularly disadvantaged, as the former tend to be linked with a lack of self-control and the latter a lack of presence. It seems that people find it easier to warm up to or trust good-looking people. We all know it’s not right and yet, how many of us have been there?

The same has been noted in the case of U.S. Presidential candidates with a full head of hair being preferred by voters. Baldness though apparently considered sexy, also gives the impression of a lack of vigour that most Americans want in their president. Yet, while physical characteristics are often beyond our control, or at least cannot be changed without some form of health risk, a lot of effort, and/or financial cost, a lot about our image is – and that is where we need to make an effort because ultimately, no physically ‘perfect’ person will be employable if poorly dressed and groomed. 

Therefore, more than natural beauty and physical size, ‘looking good’ is a matter of choosing the right clothes and proper grooming, i.e. looking polished. 

Image is one of your best assets

We only understand the impact our image can have on our performance in life once we are honest about how it makes us feel about ourselves. When looking at your reflection in the mirror, do you feel good, confident, accomplished, attractive or the opposite? How much does your image help you reach your goals? 

Equally important, is to find an image that communicates, instantly, the qualities you want others to see in you. Very often these are pretty similar for all – attention to detail, smart, professional, approachable, etc. Does your current image reflect any of these? 

Take the image below, doesn’t the model look much smarter and with more experience in the second suit? 

 

Every professional environment has its own specific dress code but the above qualities are sought by all employers. Putting on a suit will not automatically give you a professional look or one that suggests experience. One that fits good and in the right colour and combined with the right shirt and tie will. Similarly, an image that is too trendy, made up, or overly reflective of personal style (as in the image below) could undermine your effort towards transmitting a professional image, might be off-putting for those who do not like your style, or simply too distracting.

 If the people who matter are focusing more on your image, whether it’s because you look sloppy or because you’re over-dressed, rather than on what you have to offer, you’re clearly at a disadvantage. Attention to detail and an ability to adapt one’s image to one’s objectives are key to success. You must have heard the saying, ‘Dress for the job you want, not the job you have’. Even if you’re not eyeing a promotion, your appearance should send a clear message that you’re happy on the job, taking it seriously, and have a lot more to offer if given the chance. In short, your image should inspire confidence in you. No employer will seriously consider someone who looks like they couldn’t care less or at the other extreme are too vain.

It’s a delicate balance that one must achieve. Focusing on clean clothes that fit well and are suitable for your body shape and the nature of the job, neutral colours, regular grooming, and limiting the use of accessories to a minimum are the basics for helping you make a good impression at most workplaces. There is plenty of information out there (such as our image tips) to help you pinpoint the most important elements in your image expected in the environment you aim to work in – or already do. If it’s too much to take in, personalised professional advice will help you find the exact image you need.

Final word 

Image is not a substitute for competence at the workplace but given the competition in the professional world, as well as the need for companies to have their employees represent the best possible image of their institution, competence is no longer sufficient but is part of a more complete package that employers are looking for.

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