Updated Tue, Oct 29, 2013 8:58 am
Did somebody tell you that if you work hard and do a great job it won’t matter what you wear to work? They were probably wrong.
The way you present yourself to other people has an impact on how they evaluate your accomplishments and potential. And your personal style – your clothes and your grooming – influences how you show up, and how you’re perceived.
Among the situations when your style is obviously important are job interviews and presentations. Thinking about these occasions, I went to an expert, my sister, Libby Vick.
Libby spent 10 years in politics and public relations, and for more than 20 years has been on the faculty at Northern Virginia Community College. In her Business and Professional Communication classes, students of all ages and backgrounds explore how they come across on the job or in the job market.
Whether you’re making a speech or trying to make a good impression, she says, “your audience may focus less on your words than on your non-verbal message. In addition to things like posture and facial expressions, personal style is a part of that message.”
Having great personal style doesn’t mean you have to spend lots of money, Libby says. You look stylish when it’s evident you thought about how to put yourself together. For example, if your budget is tight you can still be stylish if you wear mostly black, making sure your clothes are always clean and pressed.
You’ll feel better about yourself when you know you look good, and you’re likely to perform better. Libby says that in her early teaching days she didn’t require students to dress up for presentations. But then she realized, “the speeches students give when wearing sweats or ripped jeans to class are nothing like the speeches they give when they know they look good.”
But everything comes back to understanding your audience and recognizing that all good communication is audience-centered. So give some thought to what you want to communicate and how it might be best expressed to the people you’re trying to reach.
You might want to kick your style up a notch if you:
- Work with younger people. If you still dress like you have for years they may assume your thinking is back in the 90s, as well. Notice what your hipper young colleagues are wearing, and adapt their choices to create a style that suits a person your age. If you don’t know where to begin, ask for advice from a friend or personal shopper.
- Work with older people. It won’t help your career if you look like a kid. Get rid of the flip-flops if your colleagues think casual dress means you don’t mean business.
- Interact with clients or customers. You won’t make much of an impression if you’re dressed like you don’t really care. You’ll be more credible if you look like you considered all the details, including what to wear.
- Should be a good example. In today’s tough market, young job seekers “need to have every little thing on their side,” Libby says. And knowing how to look good in a work environment is part of being competitive. If you teach students, mentor interns or work with young people, your style might be the one they learn from.
- Are making a speech. Libby says it’s tougher than ever to make a presentation, with audiences yearning to check their phones and tablets. And no matter how well you know your material, you’ll lose your audience at the start if you look sloppy, uncertain or unprepared. Dress up a bit, in an outfit that makes you look and feel good, and you’ll get off to a strong start.
- Want to move up. If you’re hoping for a promotion, dress like you’ve already moved up the ladder. Instead of blending in with your peers, take a cue from your bosses, or their bosses, and dress as if you’re one of them.
Many factors shaping your career are way beyond your control. So it’s smart to take charge of all choices that are clearly within your reach. Even if your clothes aren’t all that important to you, why not develop a style that delivers the right message?
Beverly Jones is an alum of Ohio University. Her column appears at Clearways Consulting LLC. Republshed with permission. For archives and additional content, visit the Clearways Consulting website.