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Expert advice for creating a professional image in the workplace

As you embark on the path to building a credible professional image, it is time to trade in exposed boxers for belted trousers and flip flops for finesse in your appearance and behavior. Discover the ways you can enhance your image and personal brand while building a strong reputation based on respect, personal responsibility, and considerate conduct for others. “Nothing succeeds like the appearance,of success,” says Christopher Lasch. The following advice will help you create positive impressions reflected in your appearance, behavior, verbal communication and body language, whether you are face-to-face in the workplace or in Social Media. Practiced with consistency and commitment, these steps are guaranteed to help you build trust, credibility and ultimately, career advancement.


Do

Do dress to impress - your image matters

In your quest to create a professional image, be ever mindful that appearances count a lot towards creating a good first impression as well as ongoing interactions. This means abandoning T-Shirts for dress shirts, sneakers for closed-toe, work-appropriate shoes and your backpack for a briefcase or briefbag. Pay attention to the company dress code and plan to acquire a business wardrobe based on your budget as you grow. This should include dress slacks and shirts, tailored skirts and dresses, ties and suits, and appropriate accessories including jewelry, eyewear, scarves, hose and purses. Personal grooming (hair, nails, skin, teeth, hands) should not be overlooked. Cover up tattoos and piercings. The key is presenting an image that says you are confident, credible, trustworthy and approachable. Work with in-store or hired image experts who can advise you accordingly. Making a good impression is important to your success.

Remember, “Dress the way you want to be addressed,” Bianca Frazier.

Do sharpen your social skills

Your degree and hard work helped you land your first job. Now it’s time to show how you can get along with others with grace and charm. In todays relationship-focused, highly-connected world of work, being socially savvy is a requirement for success. Whether you are meeting with people face-to-face, on the telephone, or on the computer, those all important human interaction skills make a big difference. It’s all about making the right impression with your knowledge and ability to use good manners, business and social etiquette, protocol, civility and charm. This takes skill, practice and constant commitment. The guaranteed result is improved personal and professional effectiveness and self-confidence. Sharpening your people skills helps you avoid the behaviors that may be perceived as disrespectful, discourteous or abrasive. They are the key to your success in any organization, team or group and help enhance performance and productivity. Everyone benefits.

Do get a mentor or sponsor

Achieving workplace success or climbing the corporate ladder takes skill to navigate the dynamics and challenges of personal and professional relationships. Consider getting a mentor or sponsor who can help you navigate these channels. Carefully identify three or four potential candidates who may be inside or outside your place of work. Request an interview with each one in a timely and respectful manner. Be prepared with questions, a proposed schedule, and suggestions for how your mentor will help you advance in your career. Be sure there is a commitment on both sides of this agreement and that the terms are in writing. Monitor your progress regularly keeping your goals in mind. Be prepared to choose another mentor if the relationship is not helping you achieve these goals.

Do build your personal brand - stand out with distinction

Your personal brand is your reputation. It is intricately tied to your professional image. Think of it as what people say about you when you are not in the room. It is the essence of who you are and reflects your values, goals, dreams, strengths, weaknesses, mission and methods. Building your personal brand is an ongoing process. Authenticity, clarity and consistency are the key ingredients of a strong personal brand that will help you project a clear message and stand out from the competition. Your personal brand should also be in sync with the company brand.

Begin by clearly defining what makes you unique, your career goals and what success means to you and what are your strength and weaknesses. Ensure that your key brand attributes such as intelligent, trustworthy, energetic, passionate or inspiring are reflected in your presence, performance and messaging both in person and online. It is important to get feedback from your peers, family, friends and supervisors. Continue to refine your personal brand as your professional career grows.

Do grow and nurture your network

Today, your network is as much a part of your professional image as your appearance, conduct or performance. Both in person and in social media, it consists of like-minded people with whom you choose to engage for mutual benefit. Build in-person and online relationships with your business colleagues and other people with whom you interact personally or professionally. Get over the fear of networking events by teaming up with a partner or small group. Be sincere and be yourself. Linkedin is a free social media site that is the go-to internet spot for professional networking. Create a strong profile with a good business photo, send invites to other professionals who share your views and also join groups focused on topics of interest. Support your network by contributing valuable content such as articles, blogs, quotes and videos. Provide comments or post a topic for discussion. Be aware that managers frequently check the social media sites of employees, so exercise caution and restraint. Be sure to observe applicable company policy.
 

Do be likeable - adopt a positive attitude

Your ability to fit in and work with others will be determined by the attitude and overall presence you project at work. Being pleasant, courteous and using positive, open body language increases your approachability factor by easing your interactions with others. The goal is to smooth the experience of getting to know and work with you. A smile, warm greeting, eye contact, firm handshake, appropriate humour, kind gesture, or head nod are just a few simple actions you can take to increase likeability. Combine these actions with demonstrating enthusiasm for your duties and you are well on your way to building likeability, and creating a successful professional image. Remember, your attitude determines your altitude in any organization, team or group.


Don't

Do not overlook the unwritten rules

Your on-the-job performance and personal conduct can make or break your professional image, and knowledge of the unwritten rules is a key determining factor. There are rules of conduct that will not be written in any performance manual, your job description or code of conduct. These are the unwritten rules of the game and knowing them can create a win-win result. They include things like coming to work early and leaving late, going beyond minimum expectations, paying attention to company culture, dressing appropriately, but not beyond your means, keeping your office door open, removing ear buds while in the office, making your face and name known to the boss, refilling the empty coffee pot, being on your best behavior at social functions and, never, never heating fish in the microwave oven. ln both formal and informal workplace settings, avoiding these unscripted rules can undermine your reputation and advancement. Be observant and consider gathering this vital information from an experienced and trusted friend, parent, colleague or counselor.

Do not be inflexible

Today’s budget-conscious work environment requires that companies do more with less. Roles and responsibilities are constantly being juggled and employees therefore have to be more flexible and adaptable to change. It is natural to resist change, so work hard at being open to accepting new assignments and showing interest in learning new information and job skills. Learn all you can about all the functional areas of the organization and be prepared to embrace new roles and responsibilities should the occasion arise. Networking and building relationships with your colleagues are ways to help you better adapt to change.

Do not misrepresent yourself

Let trust and integrity be your guiding principles in everything you do. You are as good as your word, so do what you say and be who you are. This includes the credentials, experience and references on your resume as well as the content of your conversations and messaging in social media. This builds respect among your peers and helps create a strong professional image and personal brand. Today, there are so many sources that allow quick and easy fact checking that it would be foolish to hide or misrepresent information. The potential negative impact on your career is not worth the risk of misjudgement. This could potentially create a ripple effect in social media that further compounds the problem. If your company does not have an ethics policy, consider adopting a personal civility code of conduct based on respect, integrity, self-restraint and personal responsibility.

Do not shirk responsibility or point fingers

Demonstrating responsibility is an important part of projecting a professional image and essential for keeping and growing your new job. Make sure you are clear about your responsibilities and performance expectations. Ask for a written copy if one is not presented to you at the outset. Workplace assignments should not be treated like homework. Completion is a must and excuses unacceptable. Be mindful of deadlines and pace yourself accordingly. No matter how small, embrace responsibilities with a positive attitude. Aim to exceed expectations as this affirms competence and enhances your credibility cache. Being dependable, reliable, and showing initiative and consideration for others builds confidence in your performance ability and inspires trust. It also shows maturity and a willingness to grow.

If you fall short of expectations in any way, take responsibility for your actions or lapses, communicate and address problems in a timely manner. Avoid blaming others as this diminishes your stature. Seek guidance if you do not have the required knowledge or resources to fulfill your responsibility. Remember that professionalism is a by-product of work (Steven Pressfield).


Summary
Jumping cartoon

Your professional image is a key defining element that shapes your reputation. It is part of your personal brand both inside and outside the workplace. It reflects your appearance, behavior, conduct, and the verbal and non-verbal communication used in face-to-face interactions and social media messaging. Image has a lot to do with public perceptions and the goal is to create positive and enduring impressions in your first encounters and throughout relationships. These impressions are shaped by your everyday actions, common practices and foundational principles. They go beyond a polished appearance to reflect responsibility, respect, manners, care and consideration for others.

Build a solid foundation for your professional image and personal brand by committing to these principles and practices on a consistent, daily basis. “Good manners will open doors where the best education cannot,” Charles Thomas.


More expert advice about Managing Your Career as an Employee

Photo Credits: Bjørvika Business Band by Flickr: Glen Darrud; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Yasmin Anderson-SmithPresident

Yasmin Anderson-Smith is a certified image management and personal branding coach, trainer and author. Combining experience, passion, inspiration and a focus on civility, Yasmin empowers business women, young professionals and college students t...

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