Your professional image matters. Whether you're getting ready for a big job interview, prepping for a huge networking opportunity, or just getting groomed for a social media profile photo, you need to put thought into your look if you want to succeed.

There are some basic tips to keep in mind with regard to dress and hygiene--obviously, you'll want to dress at a level appropriate for your position, wear clothes that fit you well, and take care of basic personal grooming. But if you want to give off an even more positive (and memorable) image, you'll need to put in a little extra effort.

The Main Goals

You'll have three main goals in this process:

  • Uniqueness. First, you'll want to stand out. Either you'll be surrounded by other people or you'll be one of several similar candidates competing for the same position. You need to do what you can to stand out from that crowd - it's what builds your personal brand and makes you memorable.
  • Character. It's also a good idea to find other ways to display your personality, or your personal brand. What is it that makes you who you are?
  • Interaction. Finally, you should choose things that are natural conversation starters. Having a good anecdote or story to tell about an item of clothing or an accessory will make you instantly more likable and approachable.

So how can you accomplish this with just a few fashion flourishes?

Here are some ideas:

1. Add a splash of color.

Muted colors are common in professional settings. If you walk into a networking event, you'll see a lot of black, tan, gray, and soft blues. Stand out by giving yourself a small flourish of color; for example, you could wear a necklace with a bright glimmer to it, or a necktie with a bright tone. One guy I see at nearly every networking event wears bright green shoes as part of his otherwise-professional ensemble.

As long as this item doesn't completely dominate the rest of your wardrobe, you'll be able to stand out without looking obnoxious.

2. Practice your posture and body language.

Fashion is about more than just your clothing. Did you know that the way you walk tells others about your personality? Similarly, your body language communicates more than your words, especially to other people you haven't spoken with yet that are at your event. Your body language can make you seem more confident, which can help nail that job interview. Or, it can help you seem more approachable, which will help you meet more people at a networking event.

3. Wear an accessory with a good story.

Try to wear or carry an accessory that comes with a good story attached to it. Everyone loves philanthropy and charitable giving, (and those who participate in philanthropy instantly are more likable), so one strategy to build your personal brand and boost your reputation would be, for example, to wear a Water Watch, a product that uses proceeds from its purchase to provide a lifetime supply of water to people in need--think of it like the TOMS of watches--and explain its charitable ties when the topic arises.

Similarly, if you're carrying a handbag that once belonged to your grandmother, you can talk about its history in your family, making you seem more personable and relatable. The key to implementing this strategy effectively is to wait for people to open the door to this conversation; if you just start telling these stories to random strangers, you'll seem like you're bragging. Instead, wait for someone to comment on your accessory, then use it as an intro to your anecdote.

4. Display your personality.

You can also take the opportunity to put your personality on display, which can be good not only for accurately demonstrating your character, but also offering a convenient conversation starter. This flourish will depend on your environment; for example, some companies might encourage casual dress, allowing you to wear cufflinks or a more casual clothing item that features a logo from your favorite pop culture series.

Or if you're dressing more formally, you might choose an ensemble that deviates from the norm, but shows your personality. One example would be to wear colorful or mismatched socks - a perfect conversation starter that instantly brands you as a warm, fun-loving personality; the kind of person anyone wants to get to know better.

5. Pay a little extra.

While there's nothing inherently wrong with shopping for a bargain or buying used clothing, if you want to stand out and build your professional image, don't hesitate to pay a bit more for your clothes.

Higher-end clothing tends to fit and look better, and it will almost certainly last longer. Even if you only pay for a couple of high-end outfits, you can pull them out at important events to give your image (and possibly, your credibility) a boost.

The key to making the most of these strategies is to use them in moderation. If you're wearing so many accessories that you make clattering noises when you walk, or if you're so full of color you stick out like a sore thumb, you'll miss out on these important benefits. Instead, choose one or two of them, and make sure you're following all the other rules for professional dress and conduct.

Published on: Oct 12, 2018