In corporate America, perception is reality. Others form impressions of us in seconds: the clothes we wear, our body language and the words we use. Do you want to be seen as a credible, knowledgeable expert in your field?
How do you make sure your brand sets you up for real success? Here are five ways to ensure the image you project is one of a trustworthy, competent professional, even if you’re just starting out. (Click here to tweet this list.)
1. Dress for the part you have, not the part you want
This is the opposite of the more traditional saying, “Dress for the part you want.” For a young professional, this means you should dress to look older than you are. But this doesn’t always work.
I remember spending thousands of dollars buying stuffy jackets and pantsuits that were often designed for much older people. Not only did that make me look frumpy, it caused other people to mistrust me. It was obvious to them that I was a young woman pretending to look like I was in my 50s. — Jessica, an IT consultant in her mid-twenties
A more reasonable approach would be to dress like your age group — in appropriate business clothes. It’s silly to think dressing like a senior executive would confer the credibility and respect that could only be gained through real experience. Age brings experience, but youth brings energy.
Regardless of your age, embrace your strength and dress your age. That being said, be sure to dress appropriately for the occasion. If everyone wears a jacket at your company, invest in a well-fitted one too. If jeans are de riguer, don’t show up in a suit and tie.
2. Leverage your body language like leaders do
Did you know that we only pay attention to 7 percent of the actual words people say? The majority of their message is conveyed through body language, facial expressions, and the tone of their words.
That’s why email messages are often fraught with miscommunication — we can’t tell the tone of the message. Sometimes a side remark becomes interpreted as a grave insult.
Leaders use body language to convey confidence, leadership and other emotions to connect with and motivate people. For example, after September 11th, New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani wasn’t afraid to express the shock, sadness, anger, and determination of New Yorkers in his public speeches. His ability to use emotions to connect with his audience established him as “America’s Mayor.”
Similarly, think about the reputation you want to establish. If your brand is to be a collaborative leader, don’t sit with your arms across your chest in meetings. Use open arms and a relaxed posture to convey your approachability.
3. Learn your industry’s vocabulary
In many industries, knowing to say the right words at the right time can confer instant credibility.
What are those magical words you should know to demonstrate your expertise? Often times, they’re technical words specific to your industry. Learn the vocabulary by listening to how senior managers communicate with customers or read trade journals to pick up the latest trends and news.
4. Make friends wisely
Our parents were right: Choose your friends carefully. We form perceptions of others based on who their friends are. Who you associate with at work is more important than you think.
Next time you buy another sandwich lunch to take back to your desk, think about whether you’re building relationships with the right people in your company. Having a wide and loose network helps you garner more information from all corners of the company (and industry). Further, associating with strong performers who are rising stars in the company never hurts.
5. Ask for feedback regularly
Ben, a marketing manager, liked to describe his style as “quiet confidence.” Yet, people who worked with him used another word – “mouse-y.” Ouch.
The way we see ourselves is often different from how others perceive us. As difficult as it may be, ask your colleagues for feedback regularly to ensure your brand is being perceived the way you want.
In the corporate workplace, the way we project our brand comes through our words, emails, body language, gestures and facial expressions. Every interaction you have with a colleague gives them information about your credibility, expertise and character.
What about you? Do you want to be seen as a credible, respected expert in your field? Try the strategies here.
If these strategies have worked for you before, share your story in the comments.
Debbie Choy is a Stanford MBA, career coach and author of the upcoming book, Inside Corporate America: A Guide to Promotions, Office Politics and Culture. When she’s not writing, she runs Mastermind groups and workshops, and shares her musings on corporate America at InsideCorporate.net.