February 12, 2014
Climbing the career ladder is not just about what (or whom) you know, it’s also about your image. Wondering why you’ve been past over for promotions? Maybe it’s time to take a look at your wardrobe and make sure your wardrobe is working as hard as you.
Early in my career I worked with someone who was incredibly bright, had several college degrees (including an MBA), had excellent work experience and was highly professional. But she never seemed able to get promoted. Puzzled, I had a discussion with our manager.
My manager’s response? “Good grief, Lisa. I understand her business strengths, but there’s just no way I can put her in front of the management team or customers for a presentation because they wouldn’t take her seriously. Have you actually looked at her?”
So I took a good look. My co-worker mainly wore polyester slacks and a blouse to work each day, her hair was long and straight (circa 1970s) and she rarely, if ever, wore makeup or jewelry. At the time, I was working in the medical equipment industry for a Japanese corporation. The industry, as well as the company, was very conservative. I wore a suit to work every day of the week. And for trade shows, the company-recommended attire for employees was a black, navy, or dark brown suit.
“Allie,” as I’ll call her (name changed), didn’t want to wear suits to work and she didn’t like having to take the time to apply makeup or style her hair. She wanted to wear comfortable clothes and had the attitude that no one could make her do things any differently – and she had apparently told this to our manager whenever he’d had discussions with her about her appearance.
In Allie’s case, I watched as she sacrificed career promotions for comfort at work. It was a lesson I learned quickly: That to hold a certain job – and secure the position after it – you not only need the knowledge, skills, and experience, you also need to look the part.
It’s pretty simple: Like it or not, people do judge books by their covers. So while you might be hard working and knowledgeable, your attire might imply laziness or sloppiness that could overshadow your work ethic and achievements.
A polished, professional wardrobe that colleagues and customers respect will send the message to your boss (and others) that you should be taken seriously for new opportunities, promotions and pay raises.