I’m sensitive to respectability politics and the policing of women, but I also realize that there are some harsh realities that I’m subject to. Thanks to a good gene combination, I look younger than I actually am and unfortunately, our society tends to equate age with success & respect. By those standards, I don’t look successful nor do I look like anyone who should be respected. My hair is usually in a big puff, I still wear pretty much the same size clothes that I wore when I started undergrad 8 years ago, I LOVE pink, and my Black has yet to crack. So when I tell people that I’m a career counselor at XYZ University, they look very surprised. “You?! You don’t look old enough to be a career counselor!” Of course I don’t mind anyone flattering me about how young I look, but I do realize that this could be a barrier for a budding professional. Who wants to walk into a presentation or meeting and be handed a highchair? Not me; the only highchair I want is a throne *finger snap*!
I also have to acknowledge that my professional image is not just about how I present myself, but is also about how others perceive me. And we all have a lot more control over how others see us than we think we do. Your professional image is the way you dress, what you say, and how you say it. So when I’m meeting with students (especially non-traditional college students) or working with seasoned professionals, there are a few things that I keep in mind when I want to show that I mean business:
1. I’ve talked about this before but when I’m asked what my job is, I respond by explaining what I do and not just where I work. Example:
- “I work at a bank” – Could imply that you have very little responsibility and doesn’t give an accurate display of your professional self. “Working at a bank” could mean that you make the morning coffee and sharpen the pencils. So if that’s not what you do, then you should be more specific when talking about yourself.
- “I am a Financial Advisor for Chase bank” – Noooow we’re talking! People don’t usually make a big fuss over where you work, but they are interested in what you actually do everyday.
2. Speaking with authority and conviction is hard to ignore and your elevator pitch is absolutely crucial. Knowing what you want to say about yourself helps you speak confidently. Its hard to get people to buy in to what you’re saying when you’re stuttering and fumbling over your words. Along with this goes the importance of speaking up. If you’ve done the work, know the research, and have compiled the information, don’t keep it to yourself; share your knowledge!
3. Dress to impress. I’m all for cute and I’m certainly all for comfy, but those two don’t always say, “Take me seriously!” Investing in your wardrobe is key when starting a new job. But before buying new work clothes, take a look at how your boss dresses. The old saying, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have” still rings true. To do this, you have to know the difference between business formal, business casual, and casual (yes-there’s a difference. A BIG difference). I’ve seen hundreds of students attend career fairs in what they thought was appropriate attire; but was actually far from it. This will also depend largely on the industry that you work in, but a good rule-of-thumb is that if your boss isn’t wearing it, you shouldn’t wear it either.
Other tidbits include:
- Choose an automated voicemail recording. Stick to the basics and absolutely no noise or music in the background.
- Have your degree(s) or other certificates hanging on your office wall. The butterfly picture is cute but you won’t get promoted for being cute.
- Opt for neutrals with a pop of color to accent your outfit. This way you stay professional, but still show a splash of your personality without being overwhelming.
- Reserve your bold, bright, and attention-seeking tote for your after-work or weekend activities. A solid color briefcase or bag is just fine for the office.
- Refrain from fiddling with your hair or earrings while you speak. It’s distracting and screams, “I’m an airhead!”
- I recently read somewhere to smile less when you listen or speak to others, but…the jury is still out on this one.
Overall, when in doubt: K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, sweetie); less is the new more!