How Your Appearance at Work Can Affect Your Career Mobility

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There are some things that we do without thinking, subconsciously, without purpose or intent, that contribute greatly to the perception of others. We can seem incompetent or look less capable than we actually are based on our attire, posture, and/or appearance, without being aware of it. Earning a competitive degree and maintaining a high-grade point average may be important factors in measuring career mobility. Yet, despite our best intellectual efforts, many young black women fall into negative stereotypical judgment, merely based on our basic appearance.

Fifty-five percent (55%) of your credibility comes from your appearance alone. Only seven percent (7%) only judged based on your actual competence. From these statistics, it’s obvious that if you don’t look the part, you won’t be recognized as a likable, competent, or capable professional. With that, it’s incumbent on us to wear appropriate attire to work in promoting and sustaining the career mobility we worked so hard to gain.

Your Work Attire

Slowly companies are moving away from the business professional attire of earlier generations, and have begun to embrace more casual trends. But the old adage “dress for success” still rings true. That is to say, if you want that dream job, you need to dress the part. Taking cues from the company culture and from colleagues and friends can provide a clear line of sight.

Excessively short skirts and low-cut blouses draw attention, as do wrinkled or ill-fitted attire as they say a lot about your professionalism, generally undermining your other best qualities and skills. You want people to take you and what you contribute in ideas and efforts seriously, and that involves your work attire. It doesn’t matter how bright or competent you are if your appearance distracts your co-workers.

However, the workplace culture has to be considered. Employee dress at a prestigious consulting company or law firm is different from that of employees at a Silicon Valley tech company such as Google or Facebook. Again, the goal is to have our ideas and input to be taken seriously, and to avoid at all cost, being viewed as a distraction. A great sense of style that complements your personality is an incredible asset, combined with your sharp wit and keen intelligence brings added value to any organization, but all that needs to be in the right package, the proper attire.

Recommendation: During the interview process, include questions about the culture at the company or any particulars relative to the dress code or policies. That way when you come in on your first day you won’t be overdressed or underdressed. Invest in staple pieces such as button-down shirts and blouses, a couple of pair of good dress pants in solid colors, a comfortable pair of mid-height heels, and a nice lightweight blazer. Try to match the dress style of the women in the managerial roles. That’s how you want to dress for success.

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Too Little or Too Much Makeup

Some people wear makeup to work and some don’t. But if you choose to wear makeup to enhance your appearance, wearing the right amount of makeup is important. Actually, studies have shown that wearing makeup increases people’s perception of a woman’s likeability [1], and likeability is key to achieving career success. However, too much makeup can be as distracting as inappropriate attire, frightening people away and dissuading them from wanting to work with you.

Makeup should complement your facial features, not undermine or exaggerate them. So, don’t go to work wearing Candy Yum Yum lipstick just because someone complimented you. Finding the right balance of makeup is important if you are one to wear it to the office.

Recommendation: Seek the advice of a friend or colleague whose appearance seems appealing in makeup. Try to get her to offer a few pointers on how to enhance your look. If you don’t like to wear makeup every day, try sticking with nude-based or soft-pink colors that help you to not look too overdone. Black Opal is a great cosmetic line for all women of color that embrace all skin tones.

Hairstyle Choices

Hairstyle choices are tricky. Especially when it comes to our own hairstyles. It’s important to have people to understand that our hair defies gravity and f*boys. Hair is important in the black community whether it’s natural hair, weave, braided, or relaxed. To black women, hair alone is a full statement. Like makeup, hairstyle should be viewed as an accessory to your looks, not the main focus of your appearance. You don’t want to be known for your flamboyant hairstyles at the office.

Recommendation: Ask yourself, would you hire yourself with your hairstyle for this particular role? If the answer is no, time to find a new hairstyle or go see a hair professional for a more prim look.

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Tattoos and Piercings

If you’re not in the creative arts field, then visible body tattoos and piercings aren’t the best bet when it comes to your employment future. Research shows that sixty percent (60%) of employers will not hire candidates that show visible tattoos or body piercings [2]. If you must get body art or trendy body piercings, make sure it’s not visible to your co-workers or boss. As we get older, the level of respect we feel for tattoos and piercings tend to drop dramatically. I mean honestly if Oprah or Michelle Obama have tattoos or body piercings, would you take them seriously?

Recommendation: Discretion in size and placement of body art and piercings is key. You need to be able to cover it up completely when called for. The best move is probably to get a tattoo where no one can see it unless you want them to. That way you don’t have to sacrifice your clothing choices or wear turtleneck sweaters and long pants every day at the office.

What are some things that we need to keep in mind when it comes to our appearance in the professional world? Please comment below!

Featured image: @asiyami_gold

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