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Do You Dress for Success?

Kate Lorenz, Editor

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Most people make initial decisions about you in the first five minutes they meet you. That abbreviated window could be an excellent opportunity to project a confident, professional image or just enough time for them to decide you're not right for the position or are not management material. Does your style say, "I'm an up-and-comer" or "I'm inept"? See what these fashion statements say about you at work:

1. You're headed off to an interview at a young, fast-paced, high-tech company and show up in jeans and gym shoes.What your style says about you: 'I'm lazy and not really interested in getting this position.' "Always dress for a typical interview," says Orville Pierson, senior vice president at Lee Hecht Harrison, a job search and career management consulting firm, and author of "The Unwritten Rules of the Highly Effective Job Search." Even in the most lax work environments, it's always better to come to the interview dressed a notch above what the prevailing culture dictates, he says

2. You come to work every day with a crumpled shirt thinking nobody probably notices anyway. What your style says about you: "I'm messy. If I'm this careless about the way I dress everyday, imagine how much I will mess up any projects I'm assigned." For years Jo Farrell of the Jo Farrell Group in Denver has been teaching communication skills and providing image counseling. She warns that clients and hiring managers won't trust you can perform the job if you can't come to work looking professional.

3. You wear "club attire" to the office because you're meeting friends out after work.What your style says about you: "I dress provocatively because I'm hiding my lack of professional qualifications." "You want to be taken seriously," Pierson says. But dressing like a vamp is a surefire way to take you out of the running for future advancement.

4. You see no harm in maintaining your individuality amidst the homogenous corporate crowds. (Besides, the pink hair dye is only temporary.) What your style says about you: "I'm thumbing my nose at the prevailing company culture and don't care if I'm not taken seriously." "People make decisions on various factors, some conscious and some subconscious," Pierson says. Even though your work may be admirable, if your mohawk makes people feel uneasy, you won't advance in a corporate profession.

5. The bulk of your wardrobe is beyond retro, looking more like it came from your late uncle Lenny's closet.
What your style says about you: "I'm out of the loop. I rarely poke my head out of my cubicle and fully expect to retire from this same position years from now." These days you needn't spend a fortune to have a neat, contemporary and professional wardrobe. There are several moderately-priced retail chains and even some surprising finds at the giant discount stores. The point is, you must make an effort to maintain a polished appearance. If you see yourself in any of these situations, launch a makeover immediately.

"We used to be able to give candidates very explicit instructions on how to dress," says Pierson. "Today all of that has changed." The key is knowing what is acceptable in your industry. The cosmetic industry's accepted style norms will be a far cry from those of a public accounting firm. That's why when you are looking for a job, its important to research the company culture, he notes. If you're at a loss for what is acceptable, choose an appropriate role model. "Instead of modeling yourself after entertainers in Hollywood, model yourself after business and community leaders you admire," Farrell suggests.

Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Last Updated: 25/07/2008 - 3:53 PM

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