You train for years to develop professional competence, but can fail to advance in your career if you don’t project a professional image too. You may have great knowledge in your head and outstanding technical skills, but won’t move up an inch if you don’t present yourself well. Just as you learned your craft, you can learn how to improve your image so that it works for you, and not against you.
Before you can even open your mouth, people around you form impressions about whether you’re one to get to know based upon how you look. Sure, these opinions are unfair since they’re based upon superficial features, but that’s the way it is, so give careful thought to your appearance. When you’re in a serious profession, customers and colleagues expect your appearance to look serious too, even though you’re always free to do your own thing when you’re off-duty. This means that the latest “Barbie” fad of wearing wafts of curls down to your breasts exposed by plunging necklines will probably not signal that you’re the one to handle the mental heavy lifting. Yes, sexy can be smart and to suggest otherwise is a stereotypical judgement since you probably can do just fine, but you won’t look like you can if you seem more preoccupied with flipping hair out of your face, shimmying down a short hemline, and trying to steady yourself on the latest designer stiletto heels. The trendy look might help you win a fashion contest, but may cause you to lag on your job if you’re not working in the creative arts. Similarly, you may be ex-military and proud of your collection of tattoos, but donning short sleeves or collarless shirts to show them off will likely have the opposite effect if you’re working in a conservative business with clients who assume that you’re a renegade biker or former gang-member who probably doesn’t have the skills to help them. When there’s time for people to get to know you, they’re usually pleasantly surprised to learn that you know what you’re doing. But often you won’t have this time, so they may reject you in favor of someone who immediately wins their confidence.
As with appearance, your body language can peg you as a “lightweight” before you get to say a word if you don’t appear self-assured. Stand erect and walk with certainty, making eye contact with others and extending a greeting, even when doing something as simple as entering an elevator. When cultural upbringing makes this hard for you, be mindful of the need to exude friendliness and command of yourself in the best manner you can. Don’t be afraid to move around the room to introduce yourself or to chat with others before an event begins, and to exchange business cards as you meet those who are new to you. Plopping down in the first seat you see and not budging the entire time doesn’t enable people to get to know you. If physical limitations restrict you, make a point of waving or otherwise saying “hello” and engage in chitchat with those near you. While seated, remain attentive to what’s going on around you. Slouching over, fooling with papers, or checking e-mail during the occasion doesn’t project professional presence.
Whenever you have the opportunity to speak, be sure to express yourself clearly and with authority. Mumbling or speaking so softly that people have to keep asking you to talk louder is an indication that you’re not coming across well. Step forward or out from behind the table if everyone can’t see and hear you, and allow yourself to move and gesture naturally, rather than deliver your comments in robotic fashion. Sitting and reading from your notes is a confidence killer and is guaranteed to put everyone to sleep. Project your voice to engage people in a definitive manner that convinces them that you know what you’re talking about. This takes skill, but you can learn it like any other skill, so keep practicing and working on it.
Your professional image consists of many factors that can enhance your career, so pay attention to how you’re coming across. Portray yourself with confidence and authority, and others will view you as the capable and competent professional you are!
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About the Author:
Dr. E. Carol Webster is a clinical psychologist consultant specializing in Success Psychology.
She is author of the book for those dealing with the stress of success ―
Success Management: How to Get to the Top and Keep Your Sanity Once You Get There,
The Fear of Success: Stop It From Stopping You! ―
the book to help you overcome fears that may be holding you back in your life and career
The Private Practice of Clinical Psychology in: Voices of Historical & Contemporary Black American Pioneers
E. Carol Webster, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychology Consulting
Mailing Address: 7027 West Broward Boulevard, #262 Fort Lauderdale, FL 33317