Your professional image can make or break you. With frenzied competition for jobs, employers have an “out” if you don’t match or exceed their standards of professionalism. Much like horseracing, the last one out of the gate is at a disadvantage and needs a miraculous run to place first. Every day presents and opportunity for you to reinvent your professional image in order to get that dream job or ensure longevity in your current position.
Why is this important? There is a cycle that influences your success that you should recognize and manage: Perceptions, opinion, performance, productivity. Perceptions start the ball rolling. This leads to opinions, including judgments and perceptions about your professionalism, either real or imagined, which can affect your performance and productivity. Ultimately, people develop new perceptions about your productivity and the cycle continues.
The first step in polishing your professional image is to to undergo an image audit. Elements include: appearance, interpersonal interaction, written communication, and networking. Perform a mental audit. Most of us know what our strengths and weaknesses are. Consult a trusted friend or mentor to give you feedback. Purchase professional image coaching services or receive them as part of free training offered by public/private job placement resources.
Your employer or future employer can help too. As HR experts, we know that employees need guidance and expect employees to represent our company professionally. We have instituted an Ethics Policy (all aspects) and Social policy (focused on networking and public alcohol consumption) to help us legally support our philosophies. Ask your employers for a copy of similar policies and compliance coaching.
Communication is a significant part of your image. Written, verbal, and non-verbal aspects present daily challenges. The classic example is e-mail. There is no excuse for sending a message without using spell check. From an HR perspective, we remind employees that email lives forever in the file backups. Use good judgment. Before you push “send,” ask yourself, “Do I want this e-mail published on the front page of the newspaper?
The overarching message is that someone is always watching. You don’t need to wear makeup to go to the grocery store, but image does matter. We don’t know where we will be working tomorrow. Today’s technology allows real-time communication and instant judgments. Think about someone taking a phone video of you with “bed head” at the grocery store - like paparazzi do to the stars - and posting it on YouTube.
So, think before you push send. Your image depends on it.
Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR Solutions for today’s workplace. Applied Business Solutions’ Celeste Peterson, PHR, Applied Business Solution’s Division Manager, contributed to this article.