By Rose Miller
Many businesses have incorporated a less formal dress code and everyone agrees that dress in general has expanded to incorporate a wider variety of acceptable attire. Talk to the business owners who sells suits and they will tell how things have changed.
This fact lead many to believe that image doesn’t matter anymore and that is far from the truth. The real fact is our actions and motives are constantly being scrutinized by others. If you doubt it, tell me the last time you saw an ad, the cover of a book or a Facebook post where you didn’t make judgments about the person based on what you saw. Now, be honest.
People are constantly observing your behavior, including how you dress and forming theories about your competence, character and commitment based on the image you send out to the world. So it’s only wise to add your voice in framing other’s theories about who you are and what you accomplish. Basically you want to strategically present yourself in a way that communicates your desired professional image.
So what is professional image? Your professional image is the set of qualities and characteristics that represent perceptions of your competence and character. (Why bankers still wear suits). It’s going to reflect how your key constituents see you. Your key constituents are your superiors, your clients, your subordinates, your colleagues etc.
Many times there is a difference in the way you see yourself and how others see you. However, if you want to influence others, you’re going to have to reconcile the two. What I mean is that you need to dress and behave in a way that has them describing you in the way you want them to. Your professional image should communicate yourself as technically competent, socially skilled and represents your service, product and your company. You’ll want to ask yourself, what my image said to them after I left the room. That’s your desired professional image. You usually know you’re on the right track when those key individuals give you positive feedback. The strange thing is after a while, how you see yourself blends nicely with your authentic self.
Despite what Hollywood is telling females, professional coaching for women will emphasize the importance of dress in order to gain authority and respect in the workplace. I’m a 5’1″, Italian looking female who has worked most of her life in male dominated industries with a predominately male workforce. I learned to stand tall, speak louder and with confidence and dress a little more formally than others. Early on, I have been taught from some leading professional image experts how to leverage my professional image. It’s a strategy to break down stereotypes. Have you ever been in a meeting, you propose an idea, then the guy next to you says the same thing and everyone responds? I learned to pick my spots and use queues such as tapping a pen or placing paper down before I spoke. These tips helped me gain authority and the audience began to hear my voice.
And remember that professional image is from head to toe. Many young professional learn they can’t just dress the part and still have a high school hairdo. Ever watch the show “What Not To Wear”? The two stylists teach the individual how to connect their total look to their professional roles. And it’s not just the clothing but the hair and makeup must all coincide before the makeover is complete.
Dressing is also tied to self-esteem. Going back to the TV show, the makeover candidates all confess how their less desired image was tied to poor self-esteem issues. The added bonus to the outward upgrade was tied to their overall increased well-being. Obviously there is a connection to our mental attitude our personal and professional image. That’s one to explore in another column. A successful professional image will generate a number of important personal and professional benefits including career advancement, better client interactions, increased self-esteem and better work relationships.
Miller is the president of Pinnacle Human Resources LLC.