You vs. Perception of You: The Value of Your Look and Demeanour To Your Career
Your career is all about your brain. It’s about the way you think; the things you can do; what you have achieved and what you can offer in the future. It’s the ideas that you have and the instincts that you nurture. It’s cerebral, with even manual work meaning you have to know what to do when. The world of work is all about your mind.
… Well, it should be.
In a perfect world, that’s exactly how it would work. We’d exist in a meritocracy, where the one thing that mattered was the work you could produce and how well you could do it. Nothing else – appearance, attitude, the way you speak or how you express yourself – would be able to get a look-in.
In case you haven’t noticed, we live far from a perfect world. So we’re stuck with a situation where of course, the way people think matters – but it’s not the end of the situation. You can’t be a genius with a revolutionary idea if you can’t communicate that idea, or your hygiene is so poor that no one wants to be around you. Looks, appearance and the rest of it all matter if you truly long to succeed. There’s nothing you can dismiss.
So if you have ever found yourself reeling from a career-related setback you don’t understand, are considering a career transition or just want to boost your potential – then it’s time to look at how perception can impact your livelihood.
PERCEPTION OF… How You Look
Do you need to be beautiful to have a successful career?
No. In fact, glance down the list of the most successful people and you will quickly see that notion dispelled for yourself! The physical features that your parents brought to the table aren’t really an issue. Might you get an easier time of it if you are attractive? Sure, but it’s not the absolute.
What does matter is how you present yourself. You might be familiar with the old saying that you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, but in this case, you need to at least give it a go. No matter what your physical features are, you have to make the most of them.
Hair: Should be groomed, well cut and styled. The styling is important here; if you look like you’ve just tumbled out of bed, then it’s not going to look good. If you have a short, manageable style then at least look at volume as a way of making yourself look more presentable.
Nails: Manicures make a big difference – for both men and woman! Nails should be of matching length, with well-moisturised cuticles – and as for hang nails, nip those in the bed when you see them. For women, nail polish is a decision you make for yourself. Just if you do decide to wear it, make sure it’s not chipped or flaking – that won’t get a good result.
Makeup: Think this is just about the ladies? Wrong. Both genders should be utilizing makeup to erase facial flaws. One of the biggest problems career-oriented people can have is stress, and stress has a significant impact on your skin. Develop a skin care routine to try and alleviate the worst of the damage, and then use light makeup to paper over any remaining issues. Everything should be subtle; try and keep it less about painting on a new face and more like an analog form of PhotoShop. You’re looking to enhance and improve what’s already there, not create someone unrecognizable.
Teeth: They don’t have to be so white they could blind (or show up with a blacklight, as per one memorable Ross-disaster moment on Friends) but not-yellow teeth are a must. After all, who’s going to trust you with big money decisions if you can’t take care of your oral health?
PERCEPTION OF: Your Attitude.
The way that we present ourselves can make up for many flaws. It’s easier to sell a bad idea presented well than a good idea that’s presented badly.
Palms: If you’re going to be shaking hands, then the last thing you want is for someone to do so and then realize your hands are wet. Use a light spritz of antiperspirant before big meetings or keep a small pot of arrowroot powder on hand. (Be careful with the latter: if you get it on your clothes it’s difficult to remove.)
Preparedness: If you’re going into a big meeting or interview, then you need to be ready for what might be thrown at you. What if you are asked to write something down and realize you don’t have a pen (or a smartphone) to hand? It’s going to look better if you can take one from your jacket pocket than if you have to ask for one. If someone asks you for a business card, then you need to have one to hand – it’s not like they’re difficult to come by, thanks to services like Banana Print and others. One click and you’re done, rather than having to scrawl your information on the nearest bit of paper. And that’s if you have a pen.
As for the business card itself – or anything else you had over for the consideration of others – then keep it simple. No fancy fonts, no excessive use of underlines or emphasis – and definitely no emoji. You want anything you had over for perusal to be easy to read at a glance rather than someone having to study to find the information they need. Again, it’s all about appearance.
By showing you’re ready for the things that are likely to happen and have something suitable to hand, you can exude a confidence that says: “I’m prepared. I know what I’m doing, and I think ahead and anticipate things.”
Speech: Many people have analyzed the way that successful people speak, and the conclusions are rich and varied. As a general rule, try and keep your sentences short – but without wavering to the point of being staccato. Try and eliminate words like “maybe” or “perhaps” from your lexicon when you’re in career mode. It helps you sound more authoritative and like you’re fully in control of what’s happening, rather than hedging your bets.
Finally, never, ever speak over people – even if you think they are wrong or inaccurate. Bite your tongue, let them finish and then raise your objections. If you only take one thing away from this article, then this is the main one! Don’t be argumentative – be seen to be willing to let others have their say even if you patently disagree.
Body Language: You may have heard statistics about how we do a high percentage of our communication without using words. They’re generally not true; words are still important, and see above for some further information on that. While not quite as important as you might have been led to believe, body language is still something to consider.
The major point to try and fix is behavior that makes you seem anxious. Try and keep your hands by your side; if you’re sitting, place them in your lap. Don’t fold your arms across your chest. Testing on perception has shown that people are less trusting of those that seem nervous or unsure, so try and exude confidence even if you don’t feel it.
PERCEPTION OF… Your Internal Preparation
Finally, it wouldn’t be right not to acknowledge some of these require an internal preparation. It’s all well and good trying to exude confidence as mentioned above, but some of us just can’t do it if it’s not genuine.
There are ways to trick your brain into thinking you feel better than you do. This is quite literal; you can convince your brain you’re happy and confident even if you’re not. Do it right, and you will get a resulting flood of chemicals to the brain that are identical to when the emotion is real.
Before any big career event, find a private space and go through what are referred to as “power poses.” The most effective is to raise your hands above your head, the way a sprinter does when they cross the finish line in first place. It’s a move that says you have triumphed and your brain will be tricked into thinking that you have. These have been tested, time and again, and always deliver the same result.
So from your business cards to your appearance and through to making strange yoga-like poses in the bathroom before a meeting, you can improve how other people perceive you. It may take some time for all of the points raised above to begin to feel natural; it won’t come easily.
Think of the saying, though: fake it until you make it. That’s all you’re doing, just in a business setting. The more confident you act and the more polished you appear on the outside, the higher the chance of it becoming a reality on the outside.