What are some simple tips that can help people look more professional? originally appeared on Quora, the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
It's all in the details. Once you've got your basic professional attire mastered* (for whatever your line of work/dress requires), what brings you the extra mile is in the details. These are two-pronged: attitude and accessories.
- Projecting confidence will make you look more professional. Some things you can do to help with this are maintaining good (but not uncomfortable) eye contact, smiling, nodding occasionally, and being both an active listener and a clear and thoughtful speaker.
- Being approachable and open to discussions of all kinds helps, especially when paired with confidence (you're not a doormat, but you're also not standing on a high pedestal unable to be reached). The best professionals I know in any line of work, whether it's at a coffee shop, an investment firm, or a startup, are approachable (when appropriate). The least professional are unapproachable, albeit for a variety of reasons (whether it's simply that they have an air of being too important or it's just clear that they're hostile and not open for discussions).
- Composure. Maintaining your composure at work is critical to looking more professional. When you do it a majority of the time, you can then use the small occasions to emote more than normal to great effect--whether it's to celebrate a really big win (Oh man, Alecia's REALLY happy about that, and she's usually pretty calm, though positive, this must be huge!) or a pretty critical miss (Oh wow, she looks pretty intense and serious about what happened with X, this must be a pretty big lost opportunity in her eyes). And the rest of the time, composure inspires trust from those around you and helps establish you as a professional in all situations, good, bad, and everyday.
Accessories. This is where it's a little debatable, and we could say that you should be able to be professional without X, Y, or Z. That's true. But on the other hand, if you're looking for the small signals to just help with your overall big picture, these are some tips. It's not even about just looking a certain way to outsiders, it's about how these small things may help you feel more "ready" for anything. There are jokes about war paint, etc., but the basic idea was to get people in a mind spot for something, and that's why it's an idea used across the world throughout history.
- Over your basic attire, anything "extra" that you don to go the extra mile just makes you look that much more put together. As a manager whose professional wardrobe consisted of all black, this meant a range (depending on where I worked) of accessory options like a splash of color at the ears, a statement necklace, a tasteful bracelet, or a really nice pair of shoes. For my husband, who wears a dress shirt and slacks to work every day under his white coat, this means that I buy him a wide array of colorful, fun statement socks. He gets remarks daily--they really make the entire thing look that much more thoughtful and appealing. I worked with a young man once who over his black attire would always wear a colorful bow tie. People loved this. They assumed that he was a leader in our team--and he wasn't, at least, not at first! But he saw himself as one eventually, and so did we, and he became a part of the leadership team. As a mom, I can throw a whimsical scarf on over a sweatshirt and yoga leggings and suddenly look 10 times more put together than I did before. This is great for the days when I maybe didn't even get to comb my hair before putting it up!
- The varnish. That coat you put over paint or wood to make it seem just a little more eye-catching and finished? People can get that, too. Depending on your line of work, you'll know how much is appropriate or not (and it's always up to you whether you decide to do it or not), but if you do decide to polish up, those details help. A coat of tasteful nail polish, a dusting of some powder blush, etc. Sometimes it's as little as a simple, eye-catching pop of lip gloss or a little extra beeswax to get a perfect pompadour. Just a little statement to say that you put in that extra moment will project to people that you're that much more together--and will also likely make you feel more confident as well. A wise friend told me that whatever you do to look/feel good is great, but when people show a little more effort or creativity, it instills a sense of confidence and interest that they are also going to show a little extra effort or creativity in other situations.
- The grooming. Whatever you're doing, be thoughtful about it. If you're culturing a look of deliberate scruff, great, just make sure it's neat around the edges so it looks purposeful and not just lazy. Even if you never paint your nails, you should make sure they're clean, trimmed to a good length (whatever you decide that is), and generally neat-looking (unless you work hard with your hands, and then maybe the dirt or scars, etc., lend to that air of professionalism, too!) Hair that looks deliberately cared for is nice, whether that's simply having it clean and neat or you like a more styled option.
- The smell. Although in many fields, wearing a perfume or scented lotion is eschewed (for anyone in most service industries, etc.), if it's not, smell good. But do not overdo it! Being lightly scented, whether it's cologne, perfume, lotion, or just freshly soaped, generally is more appealing than not. When people are standing near you, it should be mostly a pleasant experience, without any real reason to feel put off.
*Regarding mastering basics, I'd say stick to these things when building your wardrobe: fit, function, quality, and classics.
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