Things you wish your boss had told you

We have problems with some of our people, especially in summer. They do not dress appropriately for business and we are sorry, but this compromises their future career with us.’ A conversation I’ve been having with HR directors, talent managers and headhunters in the past month.

I thought this is worth a short article. The theme of appearance seems a difficult one to address: our clients are saying that employees take it too personally, or they think it is only an excuse for not being promoted, not being hired or even for being fired. This is when advice from someone external to the company or to the coaching process is key for those in career transition: no one will tell them that it is the way they show up that sabotages their efforts to succeed.

When in transition, you need to be exposed and remembered: you need to give a positive first impression.

What you wear really matters
Many people including psychologists think that snap judgments have to do with facial features: symmetrical faces and wide-apart eyes are good, anger is a no-no. Karen Pine ‘s latest research at the University of Hertfordshire confirms that clothes makes a huge difference to these first impressions.

Over 300 adults (men and women) looked at images of a man and a woman for just 3 seconds before making ‘snap judgments’ about them. In some pictures the woman wore a skirt tailored suit and in others a trouser suit of the same color and fabric, but bought on the high street.
After just a 3 second exposure the female in the skirt tailored suit received more positive ratings than in the trouser suit.

A skirt is better

For many years women were told that to succeed in business they have to dress in a masculine fashion – there is even research ‘proving’ this (Forsythe, 1990). These days research as mentioned above shows us that women can dress in more feminine ways and still be taken seriously.  But hey, if we need research to prove this, it is because we are giving our power away in the first place.  

“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.” -Mary Shelley

My clients find their best professional image bringing all what they have as a woman and instantly they feel more confident and grounded, therefore performing better making a much more positive impact. How is this possible? Reports such as Enclothed cognition (Northwestern University – 2012) confirm that what you wear, not only affects the viewer, but the wearer as well.

Be aware – take note of these 5 TIPS
The conversation about summer looks in offices comes from the fact that women do not have role models to look up to. Women don’t learn anywhere what it takes to create a professional image – but trial and error without guidance can be dangerous.
I’ve seen plunging neckline, micro-skirts -even shorts!-, and extremely high-heeled shoes in women who try to affirm their femininity. Be careful, you can take things too far.
Having a professional image that brings the best of you as a woman is about the subtle elements. Even in the corporate cocktail party and networking dinners.

TIP #1 The Devil’s in the Details
Here is the key word: tailored. Not meaning expensive made-to-measure suit. It means well cut and well fitted for you. It’s the small details that most often let people down;  ill-fitting trousers or skirts, lose jackets, missing or straining buttons.  Pay attention and maintain the most polished appearance you can at all times. Little things say a lot.

TIP#2 Color Impact
Personal color profiling is a valuable tool in ascertaining which colors most enhance your natural coloring.  By wearing colors that enhance your skin, hair and eyes, you will be seen as more youthful, competent, vibrant and healthy looking.
Contrast is a vital factor in impression management.  When the onlooker’s brain picks up contrast (color difference) it literally wakes up, and results in the person being remembered, listened to and taken notice of.  When low contrast is worn, it often results in the wearer becoming almost invisible.
High Contrast (bright, dark combinations).  Power dressing, often results in others feeling inferior.
Medium Contrast (light, dark combinations).  This is the most people friendly and professional.
Low Contrast (little or no color difference between garments).  This combination is seen as elegant and even at times fashionable, but in business or whenever ‘presence’ is required it creates a forgettable, boring and ineffectual appearance.

TIP#3 Stand and Sit Up Straight
Poor posture reflects poor self-esteem.

TIP#4 Clothes Care
If you wear ill-fitting clothes your appearance will be unprofessional and you will display that you are unaware of your physical liabilities.  If bad enough, you may even become a distraction to others.

TIP#5 You Are What You Wear
 If you wear provocative clothing you will display a serious lack of self-control and judgment and you may open yourself to being accused of using sexual dress to get ahead.  If you wear clothing completely out of sync with the industry dress codes and protocols, you will be assessed as someone who will never be trusted to play by the rules.

Remember dressing for success: dress for the role you want- not the role you’re in.

Download the Professional Wardrobe Check List and find out what is missing to finish off your professional image!