How important is appearance in your battle for success?

Martin Yate CPC
NY Times Bestseller
35 Years in
Career Management

Most people are concerned about appearance and try to look good, but there’s a difference between dress that’s appropriate for a date and dress that’s appropriate for work in a professional environment. You may think Lady Gaga’s style rocks, but would you hire her to manage your financial portfolio?
In today’s more casual workplace, many people are confused between their personal dress preferences and unwritten and largely unspoken corporate dress and image codes. How you interpret workplace dress codes will have a distinct effect on your job prospects and promotional opportunities.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Sitting in the international departures lounge at New York’s JFK, a courier for a major U.S. airline who was heading to London with important documents got into conversation with me. He couldn’t figure out why, despite a conscientious work ethic, loyalty, and a good attitude, he just couldn’t break into his company’s management program.
For starters, I suggested that he lose the diamond earring, but the he replied that he had a right to wear it. Of course, the courier had every right to his personal adornment. But by the same token, company management also had the right to protect the image that they felt would best serve the company.
Professional appearance
A recent national survey reported that, given equal competency in a job, considerations of appearance were most likely to make hiring managers skip over someone for promotion. Of special concern were:
•                Visible piercings and tattoos
•                Wrinkled/too casual clothes
•                Messy hair
•                Too much makeup
•                Chewed fingernails
Because criticisms of personal appearance beyond basic requirements are difficult to enforce and have lead to costly lawsuits, most companies don’t try to enforce their preferences in dress and image beyond vague minimums. This doesn’t mean that the least you can get away with is acceptable, or that “acceptable” will win youpromotions.
For example, nail biting seems such a minor thing if you are the nail biter. However, nail biting can be perceived negatively by others and be seen as a symptom of anxiety. If you are seeking the increased responsibility and visibility that invariably go with a promotion, an expressions of anxiety would not encourage confidence.
Personal Grooming
Working in close proximity with others, as many of us do, means that personal hygiene is a critical factor in teamwork and productivity. Managers considering candidates for new positions and for promotion will always be conscious of personal grooming issues, because they speak to a person’s self-image and problems in this area can make that person difficult to work with. Managers are especially concerned about
•                Bad breath
•                Body odor
•                Smoking odors
•                Too much cologne/perfume
•                Revealing clothing
Personal grooming and hygiene problems can affect anyone. They can be lifetime problems of which you have remained blissfully unaware, or can be brought on by stress, health, or lifestyle changes. Issues like bad breath and body odor are famously difficult for people to talk about, make others uncomfortable and because they are image factors that can negatively impact professional success, you need to re-examine them on a regular basis.
Promotional Opportunity
Depending on professional goals, some people might think that there can be different standards for dress and personal hygiene.  That if you don’t have professional goals beyond getting a job, then no effort beyond the minimum enforceable requirements is necessary. However, sending such a message is never good for job security, let alone promotional opportunity.

If, on the other hand, your professional goals include promotions and climbing the ladder of success, you will look to those on the rungs above you for guidance. You’ll notice how their dress and personal grooming combine to create a specific professional image, dress is restrained, clean cut, and aimed at causing the least offense to the greatest number of people, and that personal grooming supports this messaging.
The impact of dress and personal grooming on your career is significant, they help define the successful professional and are essential building blocks of professional image and make you a more desirable person to be around. This not only supports your promotional goals, it improves your job security.

 Martin Yate CPC

NY Times Bestseller                                                                 Resume Services
35 Years in careers                                                                   Webcasts
Fourteen  books                                                                        Career Management
Martin Yate
Copyright 2013
All rights reserved

Special Introductory Offer

Knock Em Dead Ultimate Job Search Guide 2017 Edition

Get the latest edition of the Job Search Guide and recieve:

    Includes:
  • 4+ Hours of video training
  • Free Resume Review

Just $10.11!

  • Anonymous

    This is a great article. If you are of a minority ethnic group, it is VERY IMPORTANT that you dress even more conservatively than your Caucasian peers. It may not be “fair”, but unfortunately, in this life, there is a lot that isn’t “fair” — and in order to get ahead in your career, you just have to “suck it up” sometimes. You can dress “your way” on your off times — as long as it isn’t too “out there.” And posting photos of revealing dress on Facebook is a “no-no”, too. Employers DO check.

  • Anonymous

    As they say…you only have 30 seconds to make a great first impression (and really it’s only 10!). These same tips apply on your interview. Your personal appearance and grooming may also speak to your your your performance (but not always of course). If you can’t take the time be neat, clean and well dressed, what does that say about your work? Again, perhaps not fair, but all things being equal these are the judgement calls that employers will make.