Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 77 – Is the look important or First impressions do count – A LOT

First impressions count. It shouldn’t matter – but we can and still do make huge assumptions based on what people look, sound and smell like. And in today’s tight job market, the way you look can mean the difference between getting the job you want / need and keeping it. My favourite way to test this principle is this. If you were up against several people and you looked the same on paper (as in the application you sent), and in the way you interviewed – what’s left? It comes down to several things. The way you sound, the way you act and the way you look. Given that you are polite and don’t have an attitude that says it all, then you need to take a look at what you look like and compare your look to your fellow candidates. Then answer this question: Would you hire YOU based on what you chose to wear today?

In this issue we will look at:
•    Do you need to look the part?
•    Create a work wardrobe that works for you

Do you “need” to look the part?

Does the “corporate look” matter in today’s workforce? Or should you be “allowed” to dress how you want?

In today’s working world it shouldn’t matter what you look like, so long as you do your job and do it well – but in order to get on do we still need to conform to the stereotypical “look”?.

As you can imagine there are more than two-sides to this issue, and one is this: There is a school of thought that says – if you are unable to take pride in yourself – the way you look, the clothes you wear and the way you portray yourself – then you are less likely to be bothered about the place where you work, or the quality of the work that you do.

The second school of thought says, well I don’t feel comfortable wearing penguin suits and nooses around my neck. I need to be comfortable when I spend all that time at work.

Personally I feel that both opinions are important and both need to be taken into consideration when choosing what you wear to work.

At a seminar I attended recently I observed every kind of variation – from what I would call – absolute classic corporate, through relaxed corporate to relaxed everything. Yes we had everything from business suits to cowboy boots.  We all worked in the same line of business and we all served a similar audience / client base.

One of the things that I have always said when it comes to clothes – you can wear a suit that cost a million dollars and look like you slept in it, there’s food stains down the front, the tie you have chosen to wear is shoved off to the side and your shirt collar and cuffs are frayed. Your hair needs cutting, you didn’t have time to wash it this morning because you were out all night partying – your clothes reek of second hand smoke and if people get too close they can still smell the beer.

And you can wear a pair of jeans, loafers and a shirt and look like a million dollars.

Whatever you choose to wear to work is of course up to you. But it may help your chances in landing that perfect job if you dress appropriately.

But of course your professional attitude (towards yourself and your job) should not stop the minute you get the job. Remember you will be on probation for a period of time, and everything is taken into consideration during the review – including how you dress, what your work is like, what your attitude is like, how good is your time keeping, whether you spend all day on the phone, internet or filing your nails – you are constantly being observed and you are constantly making an impression on those around you.

Whilst you are new to an organisation it may be best to err on the side of caution until you know what the typical office look is. However, I find it easier to have a kind of unofficial “uniform” set aside, that way I am not struggling to find suitable clothes every morning.

Create a work wardrobe that works for you

This is an exercise in observation.

Depending on the organisation you work for will help to determine what you should / could wear. It should also be noted the further up the corporate ladder you travel – the more likely you are expected to conform to the organisations:

a)    dress code
b)    traditional corporate style

Fashion stylist Di Cant says there are different dress codes for different workplaces, but a few rules are universal.
“You should look like the job you do,” Cant says. “If you work in a law firm, you should dress in a more formal manner.”

But why should it matter?

Well imagine if you were going to a meeting which would impact on your organisations ability to do business in the marketplace – would you feel comfortable talking about these matters if they were in the business suit and you were in a pair of track pants and running shoes? Would you feel intimidated?

Of course it could be argued that the only person doing the intimidating is you – by the thoughts you are having. If you feel you dressed incorrectly for the occasion, you may be more intimidated and less likely to hold your own side of the argument up.

But one rule of thumb I have personally. If I wear it to go “out” in – I don’t wear it to the office. But does that work in the same way for men as it does for women? Personally I don’t think so. Many men can get away with wearing the same kinds of clothes all the time, for instance – pants / shirts and polished shoes will certainly suffice for most office environments add a jacket and a tie if you happen to be going to a board meeting, or don’t bother to add if you are meeting clients for an informal meeting after hours. But I don’t know if it is just me, but I find it much more complicated buying “work” clothes, which is why I tend to opt for the classic corporate look most of the time.

I have been looking for a pair of trousers to add to my collection. I have a lot of jackets and tend to wear either skirts or dresses. But just occasionally I would like to wear trousers. Not one to turn down a shopping expedition – I began to look through the local stores in town. Two things.

Why do trousers cost more than the jackets? And
Why do they come in sizes 8-12?

OK, that may just be the shops I looked in – but it was interesting.

Assuming you don’t have that kind of money to pay for an outfit, there are some other places to think about going to if you need to update your work wardrobe, or buy one for the first time.

Op-shops and recycling boutiques are great places to look for quality clothes at bargain prices. In one store yesterday I found 2 pairs of brand new (still labelled) trousers from a well known designer, and a tenth of the price of the originals. In other stores I have found designer label suits. I could tell you one of the best in town – but then you’d all be there !!

One of the reasons why op shops and recycling boutiques are so popular is because we have become quite a throw away society. In spite of the economic down turn, there are a lot of people still working, and a lot of people with money to spend – they want to buy the latest and will offload those items they no longer want or like. Then you have the people who have bought, never worn and grown out of items of clothing. Yes you also get the rubbish, the worn to death and damaged items – but you never know what you will find if you are willing to spend a bit of time looking for that perfect interview outfit, and work wardrobe.

One final thought – Don’t get lazy with regards to work and working.

I have a girl friend who loves clothes and looking for the perfect accessories. But she has gotten lazy when it comes to the clothes she currently wears to work. She feels her job is safe and therefore doesn’t need to make an effort when it comes to clothes for everyday work occasions. Which is interesting because in the lead up to her organisations downsizing at the beginning of the year – she did take time and chose her clothes with care. But it was almost as if a switch was thrown in the immediate aftermath – well I’m safe, so I’ll go back to my old ways and my old habits. Given her choice of industry I would be tempted to continue to dress to impress, but that’s just me.

Have you ever been faced with this kind of situation? Did you up your game? And did it make a difference to the outcome?

We hope you enjoyed reading, have a great week.

With many thoughts