Transitioning from school – – college, law school, grad school, etc. can be a shocking and confusing time for a young professional.
Until now, you may have gotten up, thrown on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and been good to go. Transitioning into the professional world and the manner in which you present yourself every day can either strengthen your reputation or detract from it. And, in some extreme cases, ruin it.
Understanding that it may seem frivolous to be so picky on how you dress and how you present yourself, let me assure you, it is not. It matters, every day. The manner in which you “show up” speaks volumes not only about how you feel about yourself, but the respect with which you regard those around you and your position.
If you have not heard this before, and I hope you have, below is a list of “best practices” to use as a reminder for those items to be attentive to any day you may interact in a professional setting:
- Make up. Apply at least a little foundation as it provides a smooth finish on your skin. Just a smidge of blush, a whisper of lip gloss (not the super shiny kind that blinds us), a bit of mascara and brow pencil to frame your face, and you’re good. I understand some women have no interest, patience, or time for make-up but it matters in the overall professional presence. Not to go overboard on too much color in the office, but rather to enhance your natural beauty.
Be mindful of:
- Skirt and dress length. To the knee is appropriate in a workplace so as not to create any awkward situations should you bend or stoop down.
- Blouse and top necklines. Though you may be proud of your well-endowed chest, the office is not the place to show it off. Believe me, the fellas won’t mind but “the” fella who is in charge of your professional progression, will notice that you appear a little “loose”…not in a good way.
- Shoes– yep, women love shoes, but the stilettos and ankle breakers are not for the office. Leave them for the Saturday night clubs. Invest in a couple of pair of boring pumps (black, navy and neutral) and you’ll be good.
- Hair – it is not an accessory. Fix it and let it be. It is distracting to see women lawyers constantly with their hands in their hair, tossing it, curling it, flipping it around. If you are nervous, then doodle. Messing with your hair in the office around others does not speak well of you. Don’t do it.
Putting one’s best foot forward (literally and figuratively) will get you noticed and heard quicker and more positively than showing up on shaky group in connection with your professional image.
I’ve addressed some helpful hints for guys below to take note of for a stronger professional presence.
- Shave before coming to work. Maybe that rugged look is in for young guys, but the workplace is not Abercrombie & Fitch, and you need to be well shaven.
- Be well groomed – no long fingernails, no super gel hair, etc. It matters and others in roles of authority are noticing how you present yourself in the office.
- Tuck shirt neatly into pants. The “shirt-tail out” look may be appropriate for many occasions, but definitely not in a professional environment.
Be mindful of:
- Socks. Match socks to your pants (not to your belt or tie) to provide a continuous monochromatic presentation from your pants to your shoes.
- Shoes. Keep shoes in good shape. No mis-matched laces on the tie ups, or wearingany type of shoe which may resemble a sneaker, golf shoe, running shoe, etc. Invest in a sturdy pair of lace ups and a pair of “cordovan” (burgundy) loafers, and you’ll be well covered with most suits.
- Suits. Be measured for your suits, even if you have only one. Wearing an ill-fitted suit negates the professional image you are trying to portray.
- White Undershirts. There is a reason they are called “under” shirts mainly to keep guys warm in the winter months…with one exception. If you wear a white dress shirt, depending upon the fabric weight, it may be advisable to wear a white undershirt under the white dress shirt. Provides a more professional image than being able to see chest hair under the dress shirt or, worse, poking out of the shirt…eeew.
Along the professional journey, there will be plenty of times that “best practices” may elude you of feeling secure in your professional image. Easy to understand as there are rarely any “classes” in how to most effectively present your professional self. One way to allay some of the uncertainties is to look around and observe others more senior to you whom you respect and regard highly. How do they show up? Do they appear polished and refined?
Another option to “find” your professional style/image is by engaging the services of a professional stylist/consultant. Many of the higher end department stores (like Neiman Marcus and Lord & Taylor) offer these services. We also maintain a resources list of highly specialized experts who can also put you on the right path.
Regardless, remember, we have one shot at making the best first impression which may materially impact your professional success. Harness the power of professional image now to get and keep you on the right track.