Control What You Can
For those of us whose careers involve working our way up someone else's organization, personal appearance will, therefore, always be an important factor in how far we go. There are several ways that you can improve the perception others have of your personal appearance. First, "Dress up just one step," says Hinshaw of Graybar. Casual days and casual
in many office environments give those people who are "less
" a real opportunity. Study your company's dress code and come to work dressed a
above that which is required. If the company allows collared T-shirts, wear button-
. If the company allows khaki pants, wear a set of
tailored dress slacks. For women, just a little extra attention to
or accessories or a little more neatly groomed hair styling over the norm can make you stand out from the
But do not overdo it. One
executive told me the story of a male subordinate who came to work, in a casual-dress office environment,
a suit with suspenders, a bow tie, and a handkerchief folded neatly in the pocket of his white button-down shirt. "He
like a circus clown," said the executive. His presumptuous, eccentric appearance did not help his career, she noted. Or, as Doug Bain of Boeing put it, "There are still some people—
men—that you could describe as looking like some kind of a 'dandy'—they are just dressed too
. It is a distraction. It's like, what are you trying to
?" The objective is to look sharp, not
or presumptuous. Strike that balance and you are a step ahead of everyone else.
Next, learn the basic rule of manners and etiquette. Business decision
notice people who are rough around the edges, and these people simply do not get promoted. You need to know how to greet and introduce people properly, which fork gets used for what, and how to write a thank-you note. These seemingly little issues can make or break a career, according to several of the top professionals I interviewed. For example, publisher Earl Graves told me that he makes a point of taking his grandchildren to black-tie events by the time they are eight
old so they can learn how to conduct
properly in formal situations. It really gives them a leg up on the competition, according to Graves, who stated unabashedly that he considers etiquette very important when he
whether to hire or promote someone.
Do Not Confuse
Everyone feels a need to express his or her own individuality. But there are a lot of ways to express your individuality without adverse professional
. You should never risk your career advancement in the
of some bizarre form of personal self-expression.
The vast majority of top professionals do not like tattoos, nose rings, or purple hair. As Dave Ruf, CEO of Burns & McDonnell, put it, "If a guy comes in here with a ponytail and earrings, he starts in a hole with me." It is not worth risking your career over such superficial expressions of individuality. Think about it. Shouldn't individuality be about deeper characteristics than a piece of metal on your tongue? Never stand on principle over petty appearance issues at the workplace. If glittered blue hair is the only way you have to express yourself, then you are not making much of a personal statement anyway. Anyone can do that.
Save most of your individual expression for activities outside the workplace. I know
who jam with their electric guitars at home at night. I am one of them. Mike Marks, one of Boeing's senior managers, is a true-believing
—he hobnobs with the motorcycle
on the weekends and then sells F-15s to Korea during the week. In most circumstances, there are better times and better places to express your individuality than at the office.
If you want to put some personal imprimatur on the office, take those elements that separate you from others and
them into a professional plus. One of my
is a successful
lawyer who wears interesting
—Nigeria, Tibet, Korea, etc. This jewelry enhances her professional image because it shows that she has seen a lot of cultures and that she exhibits
about the world around her. I know a successful professional, Paul Weil, whose avocation is photography. He takes great pictures and has blown up several of them and put them in the office. What it
is that he has a keen eye for detail. Norma Clayton of Boeing always puts a little of her favorite soft blue color scheme in her office. "I like warmth, and blue is a very warm
," notes Clayton.
This type of personal expression is fine, and is often helpful to a professional image. In fact, Norma Clayton noted the importance of staying attuned to the personal and office appearance of others with whom you work. If, for example, you walk into someone's office and you see "animal
with inspirational expressions" around them, "don't tell that person that you are going hunting this
," Clayton quipped. You not only have to make your careful expressions of personality at the workplace, but you have to look around and see what others are saying about
us to another point. Personal appearance includes not only yourself and your clothes, but also your office. I
most of the interviews for this book in the offices of the interviewees. Every one of them had a neat, well-organized office. A disorganized office sends the wrong professional message—and it can cause a lot of professional
as well. Some people take
in the piles of paper on their chairs and boxes of junk on their floors. But have you ever noticed that those people are never at the top of the organization chart? Keep your desk neat and your chairs free of papers.