Your appearance says a lot about you. My best career advice on how your attire can help you create positive personal impact is simple common sense. Dress one level up. In other words, dress a little nicer than you have to. For example, if your office is casual, wear a dress or a suit every once in a while.
I always get dressed up when I am meeting clients. Many of my clients dress casually. When they tell me, “You didn’t need to wear a suit today,” I say, “Yes I did. I’m meeting with an important person – you.” Show respect for yourself and the people around you by dressing well and looking good.
Accessories are an important part of your appearance. In general, you want your accessories to complement, not overpower your clothing. Keep them understated and elegant. Large rings and earrings, bracelets that jangle every time you move, can distract from your look and your professionalism. Save the bling for evenings out; tone it down at work.
Pay attention to your electronic accessories. A couple of years ago, I saw a Wall Street Journal article about electronic accessories. It made some interesting points about cell phones, PDAs and other electronic helpers – all small enough to tote around with us all the time – and how they can hurt your image as a professional. Look around, you’ll see that most senior executives aren’t overburdened by electronic accessories. They don’t wear cell phone ear-pieces and don’t clip their phones on their belts. Keep your electronic accessories in your briefcase or purse, not on display. You will be projecting a more professional image.
In Wildly Sophisticated, my friend Nicole Williams lays out ten fashion commandments. I think they are invaluable advice for creating a professional look and helping you dress one level up.
- Sweat the small stuff. People don’t necessarily notice if you’re groomed, but they definitely notice when you’re not.
- Restrain yourself. Never let your accessories wear you.
- Know your body. Recognize that every style trend is not designed for you. This isn’t a limitation – it’s just reality.
- Black is your friend. Black staples – pants, skirts and jackets – are clean, classic and they always look good. They’re flattering, will work with everything else in your closet and will stretch your clothing budget.
- Focus on your feet. A great pair of shoes can make all the difference in your look. Make sure your footwear is polished and clean. This is another one of those details that people really do notice.
- Welcome the three-way mirror. Make sure your clothes fit well. Clothes that fit well make you look more professional and help your confidence.
- Work it. Style is really a synonym for self-expression. You’ll feel and look better when your clothes reflect your personality. I’m a big guy. I look better in conservative clothing, so I wear Brooks Brothers – and often get complimented on my appearance.
- Buy quality. In the long run, quality clothes will actually save you money.
- Invest in accessories. Your bag or briefcase is a constant companion. Clients, employers and colleagues notice what’s on your arm. Invest in a quality piece that reflects your style. And in this age of laptops, cell phones and PDAs, a bag that will carry your hardware is a lifesaver.
- Relax. Bottom line? It’s just fashion. Give it your best shot; know that style matters and that looking groomed and professional are important for your career.
The common sense career success coach point here is simple. Follow the career advice in Tweet 68 in Success Tweets. “Be well-groomed and appropriate for every situation. Always dress one level up from what is expected. You’ll stand out from the crowd.” “Act as if” is one of my pieces of career advice I often offer my career success coach clients. One way to “act as if” is to dress as if you’re in the position to which you aspire. That means dressing at least one level up from what is expected of you. For men, a blazer and slacks with a nice shirt and tie, or for women, a suit with a silk blouse and tasteful accessories will help you create the look of a successful professional – someone who is going places.