A positive professional image is essential to a successful career, no matter your age or field. Whether you are looking for a job, starting a new job, or a seasoned workplace veteran, it’s a good idea to learn (or review) the basics of creating a positive professional persona. A professional persona includes four elements:
- Attire and clothing: How you look.
- Body Language: How you hold and present yourself.
- Attitude and behavior: How you think and act.
- Conversation and language: How you communicate and engage others.
Your professional image speaks volumes about you and will help you develop and establish a positive reputation. Here are some tips:
- First impressions are critical. This is especially important for those entering the workforce, interviewing, or starting a new position. People form their first impressions in three seconds. In a flash, they are forming judgments about your competence, your personality, and your values. And once that impression is formed, it is very difficult to change. So be sure your first impression says what you want it to say—namely, that you belong.
- Look the part. Dress for success by dressing like you belong at that company. Your professional attire should say, I belong here, not look at my cleavage. You want people to imagine you not just in the position you are in or interviewing for but running the show someday.
Of course, much depends on the profession and field. What is appropriate and professional for a television station may be different from an investment bank. So look around the organization. Who is really successful? How do they dress? What do their clothes say about them? Follow their lead. And remember: never out-status the person interviewing you or managing you.
- Act the part. You need to exhibit a positive, respectful attitude. You want to be confident but not cocky, polite but not obsequious, friendly but not annoying. Are you someone they will want to hire or work with? Can you fit in and get along? Are you a team player? Be authentic, polite, and positive. Be your best self.
- Use positive body language. Your body language is a crucial element of your image. It has to inspire trust, because business is a financial venture, and approachability, because business is conducted through social networks. Creating a professional persona through body language means:
- Carrying yourself confidently.
- Making eye contact when speaking.
- Offering a firm handshake.
- Sitting and standing up straight.
- Using open body language—facing the person speaking, squaring your body directly toward others, without folded arms.
- Smiling and saying hello to people.
- Putting away the iPod. When you listen to your iPod, others may view this as disengagement, and that is not the message you want to send.
- Make sure your e-life matches your professional image. Say you’ve created this terrific professional image at work but your on-line image is that of a weekend boozehound, or you are notorious for sending annoying chain e-mails. That’s a bad move professionally. Everything you post and send on-line—and everything posted about you by your friends—can and will be seen by your employers and colleagues.
Clean up your e-life. Do a search and take down anything that makes you look bad, and ask your friends to do the same. And make this a weekly thing—be proactive and regularly search for negative images and posts. Don’t let your on-line life sabotage your well-crafted professional image. Be as careful on-line as you are in the office.
Your professional image involves the way you dress, speak, interact with others, hold your body, and use electronic media. Knowing the importance of image and the way others see you is the best way to project the professional image that will help you be successful.