Dress to Impress!

Dressing professionally does not necessarily mean wearing a suit anymore. That might be good news to most business people, but it also complicates matters.  The brand perception of your company, as well as the expectations created by the position you hold in your company, now determine the appropriate dress code for a lasting first impression.

For companies in informal industries, e.g. family restaurants, manufacturing and retail, professional wear means practical, casual outfits. An example of such an outfit for men is chino trousers and check shirt/golf shirt, or an overall if in manufacturing.

In formal industries, however, e.g. law and finance, professional wear entails conservative, formal outfits. For men, this means classic trousers and a lounge shirt with or without a tie.

Some companies have different business divisions and each division may require a different professional dress code.  Let’s take a company brewing and distributing beer as an example:  there’s a brewery where staff wear overalls; a laboratory to test the quality of beer where staff wear lab coats; a tasting venue where staff wear informal trousers and shirts, and perhaps aprons;  a distribution warehouse where most staff wear overalls  and a head office where business decisions are made where staff wear business wear (but not necessarily suits).

Inevitably various business situations may require different image messages.  This is where knowledge of the image game is helpful:  different combinations of clothing can project a more serious(authoritative) or less serious (approachable) appearance. One can choose the image depending on the situation and what message you want to project.

In preparation for practical clothing examples in our next article, familiarise yourself with your company’s brand perception and the expectations it create with your clients …and next we will start playing the image game!

 

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Nice to meet you …. or not?

You enter the boardroom to meet a new client.  One look and you know: “this is going to be a tough meeting –  Mr Trouble ….unreasonable expectations, thinks he knows everything, money talks”…  You fake a professional smile, shake his hand with a “nice to meet you”, but all your guards are up and ready for the next 30 minutes of conversation.  It ends not being the best introductory meeting you have had, yet, you do realise you cannot NOT do business with this man.

What has happened?  You made an assumption about this prospective new client based on what you saw.  You probably compared his image with the expectation you formed about him – an expectation based on the little you know about his business. And maybe, to your disappointment, the two did not match?

The process of seeing and interpreting a person’s image and body language is called PERCEPTION and this perception is influenced by expectations!

Have you thought about your client and what he experienced when you entered the boardroom? Could it have been one of:  “Oh goodness! This man does not look as competent, knowledgeable and reliable as I thought he would be.  I am not so sure if he is the one I should do business with”?

So you too did not create a good impression!

Making assumptions about the professionalism and competence of people based on what we see (image and body language) is so unfair: we have no idea what the person’s qualifications are, how experienced he/she is, what his/her success stories are.  Yet perceptions influence people’s decisions on whether to do business with each other or not;  whether to trust each other or not.

Imagine you hire the best lawyer in town to defend you in a court case and on the day of the court hearing, your lawyer arrives in chino trousers and a check shirt.  How will you feel about your chances of winning the court case?  Probably not good?  Why?  The expectation is that a highly competent and professional lawyer wears a suit.  However, if you take your car for a service and your motor mechanic appears in a suit, you will probably be even more worried.  You expect a mechanic to wear an overall, or clothes covered with oil stains.

Perceptions also determine how people are treated.  I am reminded of a prospective caravan buyer who made an appointment with a salesman to view the latest luxury caravans.  On arrival of the buyer, the salesman could not believe his eyes and still voiced his upset to his colleague: “Look at that man! Does he look like someone who can afford a caravan, low and behold a luxury one?!  Filthy dirty clothes, broken shoes …. he’s wasting my time!”  Very impatiently and reluctantly the salesman took the prospective buyer (whom he classified as a “vagrant”) to the smallest, cheapest caravan and openly showed his dismay when the prospective buyer wanted to look at the bigger ones.  The buyer chose his preferred luxury caravan and in the office of the very irritated salesman, he presented rolls and rolls of notes, ready to pay cash for the luxury caravan!  Had the buyer been dressed smartly, he would certainly have received different treatment from the salesman!

Creating perceptions is an everyday phenomenon, whether we like it or not!  We create perceptions of people, and they create perceptions of us!

So, if you want to be taken seriously in your career and wish to earn the necessary respect for your position, competence and professionalism, it is important to create that perception through your appearance, which is your first avenue of communication.

The next challenge is knowing what kind of clothing will create the professional image you wish to project.  Professional dress in today’s terms does not necessarily imply a suit.  Professional dress is based on the branding of your company, the industry you work in and the position you hold in the company – the things which contribute to the expectation your clients create of you! A mouthful indeed. However, not difficult to achieve!