Did you know that within 30 seconds of meeting you, the other person makes at least 11 assumptions about you?
Tips to improve professional image
While you are shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, that new acquaintance is evaluating you on these and other areas: education, social and economic status, occupation, marital status, trustworthiness, credibility, likelihood to succeed and your ancestry.
Furthermore, according to Kathryn J. Volin, author of Buff and Polish: A Practical Guide to Enhance Your Professional Image and Communication Style, more than half 55 percent of our “believability” is based on simple body language, including posture, gestures, and eye contact.
To put it simply, first impressions count, and in today’s fast-paced business world, they count even more than ever. If you’ve been a bit lazy about your professional image, you may be surprised at how it has been holding you back professionally.
If hear the phrase professional image and think of Photoshop, let’s begin by defining our terms. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “professional” as “characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession” or “exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace.”
“Image” is defined as “a reproduction or imitation of the form of a person or thing.” So, your professional image then is what you look like to your co-workers, your employees, your employers and your customers. Based upon Volin’s research, depending on how successful your image is, you are either gaining or losing prestige and/or business because of that image. Let’s take a look at how you can sharpen up your image. Here are five steps:
Look the part
What is appropriate to wear on the job can vary widely according to your profession. People in creative jobs generally have looser guidelines in what to wear to work, than say those in the legal profession. That said, what you wear has a great deal to say about you and how you are perceived.
However, according to Kali Evans-Raoul , founder of the Chicago-based The Image Studios , certain standards apply everywhere. She recommends that your work clothing should be the best quality you can afford measured by fit and fabric, not just price.
One way to gauge what to wear on the job is to look at the people in your company who have the job you would like to have and dress accordingly. Invest in some quality pieces that will from the base of your wardrobe. Go for classic designs that will not go out of style next season. You can stay up to date with trends with less expensive accessories.
In addition to your wardrobe, a polished hairstyle will help convey professionalism. It’s probably time to ditch the ponytail or the purple highlights in order to be taken seriously.
Be on time
Nothing is more frustrating than to be kept waiting at a meeting or an appointment. Make it a habit to be punctual, and you will reap dividends in the long run. By the same token, don’t be the first to rush out of a meeting. Allow time to talk with the other participants and help straighten up the room if needed. This is also a great time to ask the meeting facilitator any questions about the meeting.
Work on Your Body Language
We can reveal a great deal about ourselves before we have even said a word. According to a study released earlier this year by Princeton University, we rely more on body movement in interpreting someone’s meaning than we do on facial expressions. Here are two examples:
- An open posture, which involves keeping the trunk of the body open and exposed i.e. no arms crossed in front of your chest, can indicate friendliness, openness, and willingness.
- Closed posture, which involves hunching forward and keeping the arms and legs crossed, can show hostility, unfriendliness, and anxiety.
Did you mother always tell you to sit up straight? She was right. Posture can reveal personality characteristics, such as whether you are confident, open, or submissive. When you sit up straight in a meeting, it shows you are interested in what is going on. When you slouch, it delivers the opposite message.
You enhance your professional image by expanding your knowledge. Sign up for any training courses or seminars your company offers. If there are none available at work, seek out options for learning in your community for some options. Toastmasters clubs offer the chance to gain valuable public speaking skills in a supportive environment, for example.
Value your reputation
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Warren Buffett is credited with this quote, and it is worth bearing in mind on a daily basis.
Cultivate good manners in all your business dealings. Even when things do not go as you plan, you can control how you handle the situation. Be especially careful with your online persona. Avoid the impulse to “snap” back with quick responses. Make sure your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts don’t reveal information about your personal life that could tarnish your professional life.
“You must realize that if you aren’t managing your own professional image, someone else is,” warns Laura Morgan Roberts in the article Changing Faces: Professional Image Construction in Diverse Organizational Settings,” in the Academy of Management Review.
“People are constantly observing your behavior and forming theories about your competence, character, and commitment, which are rapidly disseminated throughout your workplace,” Roberts writes. “It is only wise to add your voice in framing others’ theories about who you are and what you can accomplish.”
Volin, Kathryn J., Buff And Polish: A Practical Guide To Enhance Your Professional Image And Communication Style, Virtualbookworm.com Publishing, 1999.