The other day I received a call from a client who sounded very distraught. In a panic-stricken voice she said, “You won’t believe this. I met someone over the weekend who told me I LOOKED like a teacher!” I replied with an answer to the effect of “Calm down. You ARE a teacher.” To which she said, “I know I am, but I don’t want to LOOK like one!” Well, that led us into a very interesting discussion about exactly WHAT a teacher looks like. What did she think the comment meant and what did she find so upsetting about the statement.
How often have you looked at someone and mentally “decided” what they did for a living? Do most careers have a certain “look”? Is that a good thing? Is that “fair”? Or is it a “which came first” situation, in other words: the chicken or the egg scenario? If you look like a lawyer, will you become one? As doubtful as that may sound, it is very common for people to paint a picture of what they have assumed someone does to earn their livelihood. Perhaps they’ve even perceived that someone doesn’t work at all (and that can be either because they look like “a bum” or, on the flip side they have “decided” that particular person has a certain aura about them that makes them appear – for a multitude of reasons – like they don’t even need to work).
Not too long ago a client who owned a manufacturing business told me he was “accused” of being an accountant! And that was the term he used – “accused”! Think about your profession or career. Do people guess what you do for a living before knowing the facts? Is this a good thing? Is this what you want? Is this what you have strived for? Should it be corrected? What happens when an individual is in a low level management job and people assume they “management”? Or vice versa.
There’s a theory that when people are cultivating their careers that they should dress for what they want to become, not for what they are now. In other words, “fake it ‘til you make it” is the message. Or to quote from the film “Field of Dreams” – “if you build it, they will come”. If you create (or recreate) your image will it help you get where you want to? Look around you and see how if this has worked for your family and co-workers. When you see someone who has changed careers or gotten a promotion, does their image change with them?
So there are really several issues going on in this aspect of the image dilemma. How well does your physical appearance represent your professional image? Can it, could it and most importantly, should it be enhanced, revised, corrected or completely overhauled? Aside from any verbal messages you send out to others, the fact is that we are judged just as much – or even more – by our non-verbal messages. Are you approachable? Do you need to be more approachable or less approachable? Do you appear professional? Do you appear too intimidating? In some cases this is a good thing and done very purposefully. Other times, it is by sheer accident (or simply by not having “a plan”) that someone doesn’t mesh with the image they portray to others.
In the fast paced world we live in with the amount of messages we send and receive daily, it is well worth examining if your image is where you need it to be to achieve the goals that you’ve set for yourself.
Lauren Castle is the owner of Impress Express, a professional image firm, focusing on career development, resume preparation, presentation skills, etiquette and interview coaching. We are members of the Professional Association of Resume Writers. For help with your image, posting your resume, or preparing your internet-friendly resume, contact Lauren directly at 858-459-7400. And, as always, please forward your image and career-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.