Many years ago (we won’t say how many) on the very first day of my first job, I got sent home from work.
It wasn’t because I made a huge error in performing the work.
It was because of what I was wearing.
I was totally embarrassed, but thankfully, I had a boss who took the time to open my eyes to a whole new world beyond my own reality.
Coming from the college campus, I had gotten compliments on my attire. After all, this was a step up from the traditional sweats most students like to wear.
But entering into the corporate world wearing a big shirt and leggings (sorry- this was the 80’s), I had the rudest awakening in my life.
My boss gently sat me down and then asked me to look around the office, noting what other people were wearing.
Suddenly, I saw a sea of suits and dresses that made my “grandiose” college outfit look completely out of place.
And more importantly, not very professional.
I felt like a fool, and left the office, shamefaced and chagrined as I made my way home.
Needless to say, my next clothing purchases were later that day in the business attire department at the local clothing store.
But this is an important reminder that as much as we may deny it, we humans are exceedingly very visual creatures, and appearances DO matter.
How we present ourselves to others in business settings shapes the very perception they form about us, and usually, this happens within the first few seconds.
But please note: I am not saying everyone needs to dress in a suit (which in many workplaces, is an antiquated dress code); instead, you should always take your cues from the company culture so you can meet the expectations of what the business expects as professional attire, whatever that might be.
Even more to the point: Someone else also once told me that we should always dress for one level up higher than our current job.
Care and attention to our appearance does not go unnoticed, and that visual image combined with our on-the-job performance, can make a big difference in being considered for promotions… or not.
If we don’t take care of our appearance, that sends a subtle message to others that perhaps we don’t quite have our whole game together. And that can raise doubts.
So it is really true that our careers really begin with with we wear.
This is an especially difficult concept for new graduates to grasp… as evidenced at a recent career talk. I was approached by a young adult afterwards who wondered, “Well, if who I am is how I dress, wouldn’t I want an employer to hire me for being the authentic me that I am?”
Admittedly, there is a grain of truth in this query, but the employer isn’t hiring a person for the individuality, but instead for the cultural fit with the organization. That means measuring up to the potential employer’s rules and expectations.
This situation is amplified because students have a difficult transition going from being in a social group composed of everyone of their same age group into a work setting where they are usually the youngest person on the block.
When that happens, the social mores and clothing cues commonly associated with the younger social set are at odds with a different set of standards within the work environment.
Learning to read cultural cues about acceptable attire in the workplace will help guide you in making acceptable clothing choices, and that will help you fit right in.
But for any interview setting, you should always dress the part for which you are hoping to be hired.
As one employer once told me, “Regardless of what their resume says, I’ll hire the first best-dressed person who walks through that door.”
Wow. Food for thought as to how what you wear can make or break your career.