Do you judge a person based on their appearance?

“Does it matter how I look, as long as I’m good at my job? “; “Don’t judge a book by its cover – it’s what’s inside that counts”.  These are comments I hear from people who doubt that their image can affect their chances of success.

In an ideal world, how we look shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t affect how other people perceive us, because the things that count are our capabilities and our values. The reality, however, is that people do judge us based on our appearance. And sometimes, the way we look is the first and only pointer for others to shape their opinion of us. This is especially true when it comes to business: whether we’re attending an interview, networking, pitching a deal or representing our company in the media.

Let me recall a couple of examples why your image is crucial to your success:

First, one of my clients last year was an extremely competent lawyer. She specialised in planning law and had clients who were mainly developers and landowners. She kept her fairly unkempt appearance for years, with the same hairstyle for a decade, no make-up and out-of-date clothing.

She kept being bypassed for promotion. The HR director recommended my services to her. She confessed to me that she was worried about looking too feminine, fashionable and therefore flimsy in a male-led profession. I helped her see that, yes, she operated in a highly competitive field, where technical competence and mental endurance were vital. However, her law firm commanded very high fees in return for providing superb lawyers, so her clients would want to see they were getting the right value for those high fees. They wanted to see evidence of quality from many aspects of the service provided, in order to feel reassured. She revealed that she hadn’t thought this through from a client perspective. She implemented my advice straight away and her new look now complements her position as a Partner at a prestigious law firm.

Second, a new headmistress at an expensive private school in the UK: she was super-bright, but her problem was that her clothing was out-of-date and didn’t suit her body shape or her position. The school was trying to attract more students, but the feedback from potential pupils and parents was guarded about the headmistress. The pupils already at the school said that they couldn’t relate to her. At school functions her quiet voice could not be heard, giving further distraction and silent criticism of her appearance. She was asked to improve her image and presentation skills by the school’s board of governors. Sadly she refused, believing that it was ‘what was on the inside that counts’. The governors received complaints, lost several key supporters, and eventually she had to leave. She never had the opportunity to see how a professional image could greatly boost her impact.

If you’re confident that your professional image is delivering the right message about you, you can feel assured that you’re being perceived accurately by those around you. But if you suspect that your professional image is holding you back, you must tweak it so that you get the recognition you deserve. Your appearance will have a direct impact on how people feel, think and act towards you. Now is the time to start projecting a professional image and make a great impression on others.

I’d love to hear what impact your professional image has had on your career.

Wishing you a happy and successful 2015.

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