How To Successfully Create Your Own Professional Image
We live in a world of brands. Stop reading a moment and look around your home or office. Notice how each article of furniture, including your kitchen sink has a brand name tagged onto it. What brand clothes are you wearing? Do you have a Ralph Lauren suit on or maybe you favor Brooks Brothers for their more formalized style? Let’s not forget the car you drive. Is it a Lexus, Land Rover or maybe you favor the BMW?
Before reading any further let me remind you that whether you like it or not your image literally defines your place in society. To be taken seriously your personal image must answer questions such as: what makes me stand out in a crowd? Does my style of dress and behavior express my uniqueness?
The exciting news is that anyone can become a compelling professional image
It’s never too late to develop a presence
You’re at a party being hosted by the top executives in your company. There’s lots of small talk and everyone including you are properly dressed for the occasion. During the first hour of the gathering you move from group to group politely exchanging information about the next big project. As usual, there is the half stale food and a variety of wines and mixed drinks. Once or twice during the evening you thought you heard someone actually laughing, but then again it may just be your imagination or something like the “cocktail effect.”
The party drags on, as most do, until 9:00 when one of the out of town branch managers shows up. You immediately sense that there is something different about this guy. Before he has the opportunity to order his first drink three of your associates have walked over to shake his hand. When he smiles you instinctively know that he is not just “one of the crowd”. For whatever reason the newest addition to the party has become the focal point.
By the end of the evening everyone, including you, are listening to his animated stories and jokes. Like the others, you too have been drawn into his orb. There is a certain high energy or presence that attracts people to him. Later that night as you begin to analyze how the people at the party flocked to the branch manager you realize that he is out going, easy to talk to, and most of all he enjoyed speaking with people and exchanging ideas. Just as you are about to fall off to sleep it dawns on you that this man has a presence that stands for something important.
How To Develop A Presence
Your presence is a confirmation of your self-awareness. It’s a style that radiates from within a powerful self-image. Most of all your presence is the sum total of how you present yourself in public. For example, look at Danny DeVito the well know comedian/actor he is just 5’ 3” yet he has dominated every movie and television program he has ever been featured in. Presence is also about your style of dressing or notably your lack of style. Several years ago one of my daughter’s friends asked me why I always wore slacks and a sports jacket to social events instead of jeans and a polo shirt like the “rest of the guys”. I responded by telling him that I dressed as a professional, and that nothing less would be in keeping with my image.
There are two important rules to observe when you decide on your own unique style of dressing. Do not think for one moment that you can create a first rate professional image by buying your clothes at Target or some other such place? You can buy first class clothing and shoes by taking advantage of sales in places like Macy’s Brooks Brothers and other great stores. Secondly, and equally important is to be sure to dress better than your competition. A close friend of mine, Jim Greico, a major force on Wall Street, recently told me that” you must always be th best dressed person on the room.” Of course you realize that your competition is anyone who is on the same career path as you, and your audience is anyone who you come in contact with during the day.
Your new professional image will give you a sense of purpose and a call to action
Why Should I Go Through The Trouble of Creating A New Professional Image For Myself?
You well know the names Obama, Bush, Trump and Jeter. These people are among the select few who are immediately identifiable. They are considered to be world class brands. In all likelihood you will never reach there esteem status, but you can become someone important, especially in the minds of those in your professional and private lives. First and foremost your new image is going to be polished with a clear crisp style of communicating your ideas and feelings. You are redesigning your image to alter the perception people get when they first meet you.
This is why you must be careful to create an image that the men and women in your orb want to get close to. Always remember that your new professional image is not about becoming smug or mouthing off with a host of wise ass remarks and ethnic humor. In other words you must always be authentic and honest in all of your dealings. There is no exception to this rule.
Your new “highly polished” image will also let others know what to expect when they deal with you. A prime example of this is Disney Productions. Everything that they produce from television programs to Disneyworld is crafted with the integrity and care.
Creating your new professional image is also about perception. It is the verbal, mental and physical image people get when they are with you. “Hey, that’s my friend Steven the teacher or there goes my old friend Flash. He looks the same after all these years.” Is this the type of images you want to be associated with. Never forget that if you do not create your own professional image others will create one for you. If you don’t believe me just go back to Brooklyn and look for Flash.
Your new professional image will literally force people to see that you are different
Your new professional image will open doors to you that till now have been closed. It is still a tight job market out there, but with your new image you have now become the competition instead of being considered to be one of the gang hoping to find a new career. For some reason the personnel director or whoever is doing the hiring selects you instead of another well qualified candidate. Your message during the crucial interview phase of the hiring process is quite clear “I don’t run with the herd”.
Preparing To Create Your New Professional Image
While creating your new professional image you should consider the following criteria:
• Your career and personal image must always be the same
• Redesign your work space so it will reflect your new image
• Always remember that creating your new image is an on-going process
• To be taken seriously you must deliver your new image 100% of the time.
• Every time you slack off or fail to deliver there will be a little scar added to your image. If you forget this rule ask A-Rod how he blew his chance to be one of the most revered men in baseball history
• Specialize your image by focusing on your strengths and talents
• You must decide exactly what your new brand will stand for
• You must also decide exactly how you want people to see you
When creating your new image you must also consider:
• The type of car you drive
• Your hand shake
• Your personal appearance
• The manner in which you greet people
• The restaurants and clubs you frequent
• The type of friends you associate with
Sinatra, Elvis and Santa
When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn during the late 60’s there was an army of Sinatra and Presley want-to-bees who thought it was cool to adopt many of their gestures and mannerisms. Most of these clowns were never taken seriously for very long because they were nothing more than cheap imitations of two famous men. Becoming an authentic professional image is really who you are and what you can actually deliver. If you have created an image of yourself as a painter then you better be able to paint pictures. Creating a false image (except for playing Santa at the office party) may get you some short term recognition, but like all of the Sinatra and Presley want-to-bees you will soon be relegated to the dark corners of oblivion like my old friend Flash.
First impressions are the only impressions
It’s The Small Details That Count
Here’s the scenario. You have just walked into one of the finest restaurants in town. The fact that you were able to secure a reservation in such short notice is almost a miracle in itself. You fully understand that dinner for two in this joint is going to seriously dent your checking account, but you rationalize the splurge by reminding yourself how hard you have been working during the last few months.
Just before the drinks arrive you excuse yourself and walk off to the bathroom to freshen up. As you open the door you are greeted by a horrible odor that reminds you of the crazy night when your next door neighbor’s septic tank exploded all over your front lawn. If that’s not bad enough the place looks as if it had not been cleaned in months.. For a split second you thought you were standing in a bathrooms at some out of the way Chinese restaurants tourists visit in China Town.
Before you can say “please pass the Clorox” your perception of this over- priced upscale restaurant has been forever been destroyed. Of course you and your companion complete your meal, but you know that you will never return to this place again; and just to be sure that your friends and family stay clear of this health hazzard you write a scathing review which you place on Facebook and Twitter.
The message is quite clear; when you are creating your new professional image remember that it’s the little things about you that people will notice. I’m sorry to say that many of my clients have shown up for interviews wearing fantastic name brand clothes and a pair of their old favorite sneakers. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that these” gifted individuals” will have a long undistinguished career at Wendy’s or Targets.
In 2014 there were six applicants for every job
Your Self Discovery Profile
Before you begin recreating your professional image please take some time to answer the following questions in detail. This exercise has been designed to help you learn more about the qualities you want to incorporate into your new image. Again I urge you to take your time and answer each question in detail before going on to the next one. Always remember that your professional image is fluid. This means that it continues to change and expand as you do.
• What three things do you most enjoy doing?
• List five personal traits you like about yourself
• What do you most enjoy learning about?
• What were your favorite subjects in school?
• What would you do with your life if you didn’t have to work?
• What do you enjoy daydreaming about?
• Which profession (s) do you most admire?
• What must you do now to create a new successful professional image?
• What short term goals do you want to accomplish when you have created your new professional image?
• What makes you unique?
• List several people you admire and describe what makes them unique
• What part of your professional image will be the most difficult to change? Explain in detail
• How dedicated are you to creating your new professional image?
• Why are you interested in creating a new professional brand?
• What qualities must remove from your current image?
One of the major benefits of recreating your professional image is that you will be learning more about yourself and what you need to do to improve the overall quality of your life. Of course you realize that at some point in the recreating process you are going to come face to face with some of your fears and doubts. Don’t stop. Now is the time to move forward. Once you realize that you are changing your life for the better your fears will get the message and slowly fade away.
As a professional you are a public person who stands for something important
Help people to see you as one of them
President Franklin Roosevelt came from one of the wealthiest families in America. His upbringing and education were available only to the very few privileged families, yet during the dark days of the Depression and World War II Roosevelt’s fire side radio chats had the country believing that he was their dear uncle or best friend who was fighting hard to keep his beloved family safe and secure. Even today seventy years after his death his legacy is still as strong as ever. This man was a professional image who stood for something important.
It’s time for you to think about the characteristics that you would like to include in your new professional image. When I decided to update my image to accommodate my new career as a self-employed consultant and coach I incorporated several of the characteristics I admired in other people. This included the love and compassion of my father, the love for learning that I inherited from one of my older cousins, and the strong sense of self that I admired in Gregory Peck who was a well- known actor during my childhood.
If your new professional image is to be taken seriously you must stand out from the crowd. No, you are not going to become the court jester, quite the opposite. You are going to be the one people come to because of your integrity, compassion and wisdom. Here are several characteristics you would want to include in your new professional image.
Trusted friend and adviser We all need help getting through life. Those who extend their hand in friendship are the ones who are more likely to get ahead. This stems from the fact that we all want to be with people who car for us enough to help us over the “rough spots in our life life”.
Be a confidant Never betray a trust. I’ve seen too many of my clients and colleagues have their careers cut short because they betrayed a trust. In actuality, those you deal with both professional and socially should feel totally comfortable talking to you about any aspect of their life. This one quality can make or break your otherwise professional image.
Father or mother confessor No, I’m not asking you to take any type of religious vow. All I’m suggesting is that those you deal with on a regular basis should be able to discuss their deepest feelings and emotions with you knowing that you will accept and help them to the best of your ability.
Loyalty This all important characteristic almost speaks for itself. One of the first rules of corporate life is “never speak badly of anyone”. There‘s really no exception to this rule. If you betray a loyalty or two you may as well go back to your part time job at Sal’s Italian Take Out; that is if they still have an opening for you.
Be sure to validate people We all want to be appreciated and thanked for a job well done. This has been hard-wired into our personalities ever since we helped dear Mrs. Brian erase the blackboards back in the third grade. By validating people we are helping them to feel appreciated and grow. A simple thank-you or a gentle pat on the back that says more than you realize. Your thoughtfulness will let those around you know that you are a kind and considerate and easy to work with.
Developing your professional image takes time and patience Before you decide to recreate your professional image honestly ask yourself if you are willing to devote the time and energy to create a new unique image.
Visibility counts more than your ability If you doubt ask Donald Trump, Oprah or anyone who is constantly in the public eye. Are these people talented, maybe or maybe not, but their visibility has created a mystique about them that many of us admire and want to imitate.
Never step out of character Never forget that one mistake can damage your professional image beyond repair. Cases in point: “dear old Bill Cosby” or A-Rod. Remember there is always someone watching or listening.
Putting It All Together
“Mirror, Mirror on the wall…who’s the fairest one of all?”
When it comes to dressing for success you must adhere to the boundaries set by society. Based on the way you dress people will arrive at conclusions about your economic status, level of education, trustworthiness and your level of sophistication. You must be sure to dress for respect, yours as well as others. People are more likely to follow you if you are well dressed.
As the American ambassador to the French Court Ben Franklin endeared himself to the people by adopting French customs clothing and speaking fluent French. On the other hand when John Adams held the same position he was extremely disliked because he refused to adopt any of their customs or style of dress. He was often ridiculed and eventually asked to leave the country. By the way, the same Adams refused to validate his staff by giving them credit for their devotion and hard work. It’s safe to say that he was not a very popular fellow. On the other hand, his wife Abby was always the life of the party. This is said to be one of the great mismatches of the Eighteenth Century.
Well-groomed men and women earn 10-20 % more money than their unkempt counterparts
Dressing For Success
Professional dress code for men
• Never forget that you will be remembered for how you look
• Never wear a brown suit to an interview or important business meeting
• Do not wear a short sleeve dress shirt. It is too informal.
• Do not wear clip-on suspenders. They are for school boys and Halloween costumes
• Your shirt pocket is no place for pens or cell phones. Keep it empty
• By sure to shine your shoes are shined and wear sneakers to work only if your foot is broken
• Never wear an expensive watch to an interview. It’s too ostentatious and will draw more attention than you.
Professional dress code for women
• The less flesh shows during an interview the better
• Don’t get caught up in trendy clothes
• Do not wear open shoes or sneakers to an interview
• Go very light on the perfume. Too much can be a serious distraction especially during an interview. The same rule holds true for men’s after shave lotion
• Do not wear spikes to an interview or an important meeting. That is unless you work in a club
Your self-awareness check list
Self-reflection is one of the keys to recreating your professional image. Now is a good a time as any to begin taking a good look at who you really and how other’s perceive you. To help you begin to see yourself as others do. As with the previous exercises please take some time to answer the following questions in detail.
• How do others see me, and how would I like them to see me?
• Do I make a positive impression when I meet people for the first time? If not what could I change their impression of me?
• Do I like how I currently see myself?
• Is there something about me that is objectionable? If there is how do I correct it?
• How would I benefit from recreating my professional image?
Mastering the fine art of small talk
If you are genuinely serious about recreating your professional image you must also master the art of small talk. For example, have you ever found yourself at a business meeting or social gathering where you had little or nothing to say to the others present? Of course you have. At one time or another we have all been in such a situation. The silence was deafening. You searched your mind for some clever conversation, but nothing came through. The minutes seemed like hours. Oh please, get me out of here. To make matters worse those standing near you also became uncomfortable and ill at ease. What a mess.
People who relate to you are more likely to do business with you
Just as with any new skill developing your small take skills takes patience and practice. One of the best ways to begin is to stay current by reading magazines and the local newspaper. May I suggest you pick up a copy of the “The New Yorker” This delightful weekly magazine has articles that cover everything including the arts, theater and a critique on the latest books and movies. Feature articles cover a wide range of timely topics on practically every topic you can imagine. If you don’t want to spend $7.50 on each issue you can zip over to your local library and read it for free; but let me warn you ahead of time. This magazine is addictive and habit forming.
The next step is to begin practicing small talk with the people you already feel comfortable with. Smile, use facial and hand gestures frequently, but most of all please enjoy the experience. Of course you small talk will never include gossip, ethnic humor or foul language. Believe it or not this is a sure ticket to an exciting career at your favorite hamburger joint.
Good professional images just don’t happen. They are carefully created piece by piece over a given period of time. Also remember that you professional image is fluid which means that it must be constantly evolving. Just like a Nissan or BMW you too are a brand. You may not actually see yourself as such, but never forget that those in your private and professional life see you as such.
As previously mentioned in this article you can sit back and conduct business as usual or you can decide that “good enough is no longer good enough”. Also remember that if you do not take control of your professional image others, including the company that employs you will do so for you. If you doubt this I invite you to contact Flash and the other characters I grew up with.
The first question many of my clients and student ask about recreating their new professional image is, “Jim, is this going to take a long time to complete?” My answer to this question is always the same. “You are beginning an adventure of self-discovery. One that will enrich your life and those you are close to.
Here are a few reminders to help you along the way:
• Begin by deciding which aspects of your behavior and mannerisms you want to change
• Keep a detailed record of the changes you are making.
• Seek out mentors who can help you reach your goals and act as a sounding board during your journey
• Begin incorporating your new behavior into your daily routine
• Start acting like the person you always wanted to be…and of course be flexible during the entire process
• To reinforce your new style help others to develop their new professional image
Please feel free to contact me to let me know how you are doing or if you need help redesigning your professional image