My friend’s sister works as a researcher /analyst. Despite being frequently lauded for the quality of her work, she has been hovering at the same career-level for many years now without a promotion. The next rung up the ladder would put her in a much more visible role to senior executives, clients, and heads of other departments.

That might be the problem. Despite being a forty-year-old woman who is brilliant and credentialed, she still brags about how little grooming time she needs to put in between getting out of bed and strolling into work. (I only mention her age because this seems more like the attitude a student might have than a seasoned professional.)

If you just roll out of bed, pull on whatever clothes are within grabbing reach and split for work, you’re not going to look your best. But it’s not how you actually look that’s the issue. The problem is that you’re not going to look like you care about how you present yourself.

And that’s how it comes down to attitude. Showing up in track pants and sneakers might be easy and comfortable (well for some, I wouldn’t be comfortable), but it can also indicate that you aren’t ready to move up to higher, more visible roles. Sure, you may think that what you wear or how you appear doesn’t affect how good a researcher or analyst you are, but your boss may just as easily think that having a senior team member presenting an unprofessional appearance can affect how credible or savvy the whole department seems.

Looking like you care, and are savvy of the bigger picture implications of caring, about the team’s brand as well as your personal brand, makes you more promotable. It indicates that you are ready for the next level.

I read another article this morning about how good looking people earn more money. We’ve seen lots of stories like this before, of course, and it seems to be true – statistically, that attractive people tend to be better compensated. This article says they earn an average of 20% more. One former male model quoted in The Telegraph piece said of being good looking, “It gives you confidence, and I suspect people tend to warm to you more quickly.”

Confidence, I think being the key word. In my experience, generally two factors go a long way to making someone appear more attractive: caring about their appearance, and self-confidence. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that confidence is more important than actual competence for getting ahead at work.

This is how your attitude and appearance can combine to give you the edge. It has been proven that people who dress smarter or more professionally actually perform better on intelligence and aptitude tests. Dressing in what you perceive to be the clothing of the most well-regarded and competent person for a role has a psychological effect on you, allowing you to actually perform as a more competent person in that role. (See: It’s not who you are, it’s how you dress)

Attitude and appearance can become self-fulfilling as caring about your appearance can give you a confidence boost. Increased confidence also makes people appear more attractive and competent. Attractive and competent people receive more recognition and are promoted faster.

Of course, depending on your professional goals, you have to decide how much effort you think it’s worth putting into getting ready for work in the morning. Maybe the extra hour of sleep gained by simply stumbling out of bed and right out the door is more valuable to you than putting together a polished look. However, it also sends that message to your employer.

In real life, people shouldn’t be making judgements about each other based on what they look like or what they’re wearing. In the work world however, ignoring the fact that these things matter can take a toll on your career success.

The good news for people like my friend’s sister who really don’t care about fashion or grooming is that you can fake it until you make it. Realize that it’s an important part of your career strategy and simply act like you care. It’ll lift your self-confidence and improve your chances of landing that promotion.


Peter Harris

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