Think about what you are wearing and how you are wearing it. The professional image that you choose to portray during a networking meeting or in any business encounter will send a strong visual communication to the other person. People derive meaning from your appearance, just like they do any other kind of non-verbal communication.
So the question is what are you signaling with your dress and appearance? Now I am not suggesting that you put on the interview suit for every networking meeting that you have. But I am suggesting that you spruce yourself up and look presentable.
When you are meeting face to face with people for the purposes of networking, I encourage you to dress professionally. Yes! Dress for success, even if you already know the person well or if you are meeting with someone for the first time and you are not sure if there is a business opportunity or not. Show them respect by presenting your best self.
- Click here to read seven tips for polishing your professional image when you network inside and outside your company
- Check out the before / after photos of Maggie – a client of image consultant Mallory Mason. It’s hard to believe it’s the same woman. What a transformation!
Neal and his packaging problem
Early on in my career, I had a male administrative assistant named Neal. He was a rock star when it came to organization, efficiency and getting quality work done fast. He had the best attitude and work ethic. I felt so lucky to have him on my team. His only short coming was his, well, how do I put this; his Hippie-like appearance. His hair was dark and somewhat long, always a mess. His clothes were always wrinkly and not well coordinated. Sometimes he didn’t shower – we could tell. People were afraid to talk to him about his appearance, because they didn’t want to offend him or hurt his feelings. As long as he kept doing a great job, that was good enough.
Neal caught wind of a new job opening to be the executive assistant of one of the department heads. He was so excited about that potential opportunity. Based upon his work quality, I happily recommended him. After the interview he came to talk to me, looking very deflated. He didn’t get the job. He didn’t even get past the first interview. Why? Because he didn’t look the part. He didn’t look ‘executive.’
I told Neal not to worry because his problem was an easy one to solve. He had a packaging problem. In coaching him, I created a metaphor of Neal as a product on the shelf. His product was the best, fastest, most amazing product ever, but it was wrapped up in a dented, faded, torn, dusty package that no one was ever going to pick up. I told him all he needed to do was to spruce up his exterior packaging and then people who be able to discover the amazing things on the inside. His presentation would attract people to try him out. His internal talents would keep them coming back for more.
Neal enthusiastically embraced this story and took the lesson to heart. The next day he showed up to work showered, with a fresh hair cut, wearing clean clothes and an ironed shirt. For his birthday, we chipped in and bought him some new work clothes. He was sporting it with pride. He looked good. He looked the part. He was ready for the next job.
Of course, how you dress depends on your work environment and the written and unwritten rules and expectations of your industry and in your organization. As you strive to do the best work possible, here are a few things to think about in regards to your professional appearance:
- If you work from home you’ll need to take extra effort to package yourself up before you leave the “office” to meet with other business people in the community. It may be tempting to stay in your comfy pajamas or sweat suit from the morning workout, but you must force yourself to get dressed for business. How you package yourself when you are out and about in the marketplace communicates strongly about your personal brand and your company’s success. Your customers, prospects and networking connections are sizing you up all the time. Do you look like the real-deal?
- If you are currently in job transition you might be getting really cozy in those Levi’s jeans. That may be one of the many benefits from not being a slave to the job. But a nonstop casual appearance and lazy dress code may become a hindrance to your future employment. Casual, care-free or careless dress eventually affects your attitude and mood. It can be part of the slippery slope of depression that happens to many people who are out of work for long stretches of time. Dress for the success you seek, not your for current circumstance.
- If you work at an employer’s site dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Know your company’s dress code and then demonstrate the highest level of it (not the bare minimum). Ladies, be careful not to show too much skin as this might distract from the brilliance of your ideas and business contributions. Gentleman, consider working with an image consultant and/or having a professional closet audit done. Define your personal style and aim higher. Work performance is not the only criterion that is weighed when evaluating if someone has “executive presence.”
- If you go to college don’t be one of those students who look like he/she just rolled out of bed, hair disheveled, pants below your underwear. Show your professors that you respect them and are taking their class seriously by dressing up to attend their class. Your professor may be the person who will recommend you for important internship and job. That’s what happened to my friend Justin. He landed his ideal job three months before graduating from college!
Ultimately, how you dress will impact your current and future career and business opportunities. Your professional image is an expression of your personal brand. It is the external presentation of you. If you currently have a problem with your professional image, then you can solve that problem by taking specific actions and investing in yourself.
Your Networking Goal for the Week
This week do some assessment on your professional image. Seek feedback on your personal appearance . Take extra time this week to get yourself dressed and ready for success, even if it means ironing your shirts or polishing your shoes. The details matters with your image. Go through your closet and give away things that don’t fit you or flatter you (no matter how much you paid for them “on sale”). Schedule a hair cut with a professional you trust. Add two specialists to your success team: a cobbler and a tailor. Ask people in your network who they use and trust. It’s time to power up your professional image!
About the writer: Kathy McAfee is known as America’s Marketing Motivator and is author of the book Networking Ahead for Business. She is the co-founder of Power Up Your Professional Image, an event based consortium focused on helping women get an edge in the workplace. In her role as Executive Presentation Coach and Professional Speaker, Kathy helps her clients to become the recognized leaders in their fields by mastering the art of high engagement presentations, more effective networking and personal marketing. To learn more about Kathy, visit her web site MarketingMotivator.net. If you like this tip and want to receive free networking tips on a weekly basis, please sign up at NetworkingAhead.com