Gone were the days where there was a one size fit all approach when it comes to consulting individuals in their professional image. And that is because with the current landscape, industries and even job designations which did not exist before are the current norm of the now.
So, when it comes to your professional image identity, I suppose only a small fraction of individuals see the importance of this and have implemented so. But to the majority who are not evaluating their image yet, I would say they are differentiated into two categories based on my observation. And that is the “don’t know” and “don’t care” group.
As the name states, the “don’t know” group basically sees the importance of having the right professional image but are just unsure of where to start. And the “don’t care” group are a group of individuals who do not think looking the part is important, for reasons either being that they find substance should triumph over perception, or plainly because they are not bothered.
And to both categories, I am going to use this article to address the two fundamentals you need to know with regards to professional image, which is why and how.
“You will never get a second chance to make a first good impression.”
– Will Rogers
It is said that the first impression is formed within seven seconds, so let that sink in. In this current reality we live in, people often judge a book by its covers.
When we meet people for the first time, we subconsciously develop a perception of that person, even without them saying anything. What that also means essentially is, if your image is not able to reflect your character or substance via the first impression, then it would take you more effort to build the trust and connection after. The simplest example is maybe meeting up the real estate agent that is about to sell you a property. He came late, did not manage to iron his shirt and looked sloppy. Despite all that, he is in fact one of the top real estate negotiators in his agency. Be honest, would you have thought so? Before he could have a chance to show you his capability and knowledge, what was the impression you had of him in your mind?
And now with the current changes in our mode of communication and how we do business, your social media platform is more often than not the first time people get to know you. This also means that when they scroll through your profile, look at your picture, and browse at your content, they would be making an assumption of what you are like based on this first impression. Rather unfair isn’t it?
So now that the big why has been established, let’s look at the HOW. How can you create the best professional identity to match with your substance?
“Begin with an end in mind.”
– Stephen Covey
Knowing how first impressions can dictate the entire perception people would have on you, unless proven otherwise (with a lot of effort of course), so it definitely pays for you to invest some time and effort to think about the perception you think you have now physically and virtually, versus the perception you want people to have of you.
To begin this process, think of at most, two perceptions you want people to have when they first meet you, and be specific about it. If you are not sure how and where to even begin, think of industry leaders, influencers that you like and respect. When you first met them, what was the impression you had of them? And why? This would help you understand the exact correlation of professional image and first impressions.
Your thought process should always begin with “when people first see me (on my profile picture or in person), I want them to think that _______________.” Examples could be that you want them to think you are trustworthy, or someone who is experienced and doing this for years. It can be anything so long as it is something that truly helps paint a better picture of the substance you have within.
Authenticity is important in this first step. This means do not fabricate a first impression that leads people on and that you are not able to live up to. Remember that the first impression is a crucial step for people to buy into you; however if the first impression is later discovered as just a facade, it can have negative, if not worse implications on you.
Once the specific perceptions you want are well established, the next thing to do is to start creating that intended impression. Prior to that, the basics of proper grooming and understanding what suits your body frame is crucial to know. A good image consultant would be able to help you in that area, because if your attire is too tight or too loose or just does not seem to fit right, no matter what you do with your colours or prints, the effect would not be as impactful.
Next is to utilise colours and prints to create your intended impression. If you want to seem more approachable and friendly, then go for softer colours as well as softer prints such as florals or the classics like paisley. These tones and prints would immediately create a more welcoming perception and hence achieve your objectives. This rule applies to make up for women as well. Do not go for dark eyeliners/eyebrows and bright red lip colours if you want to have a more approachable impression.
On the contrary, if you would like to create a more assertive vibe, to look more confident or for people to take you more seriously, then go for bolder colours as well as prints such as geometrical or even animal prints if you are comfortable with it. The bold tones and prints exude a strong and powerful impression and can even be used if you would like to stand out, be it on social media platforms or in person.
Of course, creating the ideal perception and establishing your professional identity is a journey to which many aspects need to be looked into. The purpose of this article is to create a realisation of the importance of setting your professional identity right and to understand some fundamentals for you to kickstart this journey. All the best everyone, and I will leave you with the words from the famous Coco Channel, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably and they remember the women.”