A professional discussion of physical appearances is a little taboo these days. Just thinking about the topic is enough to make HR professionals squirm.
But this isn’t a discussion about beauty and sex appeal — it’s about how to present the best possible image of yourself in the workplace. It’s about being mindful of your appearance so you can be more successful and respected. I’ve worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs and investors over the years, and one thing has become clear: how you present yourself is a big determinant of your success.
Investors, after all, don’t invest in businesses or ideas; they invest in people. Identity-centric investing has grown in recent years, and it underscores the belief that a great entrepreneur makes an idea successful — not the other way around. An article at Crunchbase explored this phenomenon, concluding that your personal brand plays a big role in clearing your path.
Are you too verbose? Are you a sloppy dresser? These things can hurt your “investability” and your likelihood of success.
6 Ways to Convey a Positive Image
We all have different styles and preferences; “different” most certainly isn’t bad in the entrepreneurial context. Regardless of who you are, however, there are some smart ways you can convey a positive and noteworthy image within a professional context.
1. Learn How to Shave Properly
This one is largely directed at the men in the office, but it’s a complaint that’s cropped up often in my entrepreneurial circles in recent years. Beard or no beard, you need to learn how to shave properly. Half-hearted hygiene can make others question your other efforts.
For starters, stop putting up with weak multi-blade razors that rip your skin to shreds. Yes, the TV advertisements look cool, but those blades tug and pull. You’re much better off learning how to wet shave. One sharp, smooth blade — combined with the proper technique — will give you a close and smooth shave without razor burn (and the ensuing red marks across your face).
If you like having some facial hair, keep it clean. This means shaving your neckline every couple of days, trimming your beard with a guard, and manually trimming your mustache with scissors to prevent it from overlapping your upper lip.
2. Get Your Hair Cut (Regularly) at a Salon
A haircut shouldn’t be something you have done every three or four months, although the pandemic has certainly made regular trims more complicated. In general, at a bare minimum, most people need one haircut per month; for long styles, hairdressers recommend a trim every six to eight weeks. The average guy could use a clean cut every couple of weeks.
Don’t try to save a few bucks by going to one of those quick drop-in haircut chains where they get you in and out in 10 minutes. Pay the premium for a salon cut. You — and everyone evaluating you — will notice the difference.
3. Understand What ‘Casual Dress’ Means
A lot of companies and workplaces have instituted more casual dress codes over the past decade. But don’t confuse a casual dress code with being able to wear anything you want.
Regardless of what other people in your office are wearing, you need to look professional and put-together. Feel free to ditch the suit and tie, but look nice. A button-up, a blazer, or a shift dress can make an impact without making you uncomfortable.
As a general rule of thumb, if you wouldn’t wear something on a first date to a nice restaurant, you probably shouldn’t wear it to work. For guys, this means pants (khakis, dark dress jeans, or slacks) and a shirt with a collar. For women, things like dress pants, blouses, skirts, and dresses are ideal.
4. Be Organized and Prepared
Does your appearance communicate a sense of organization and preparation? One simple way to appear better prepared is to carry a briefcase or bag with you at all times. It should be sleek and simple, yet big enough to contain anything you could need at the last minute (laptop, notebook, work materials, etc.).
Think of this as the physical manifestation of your elevator pitch. Is there a deck you’ve printed that you could pull out on the subway if you ran into an investor? If your industry is still big on business cards, do you have a small stack at your disposal? These are the kinds of things bags are necessary for.
5. Put Your Phone Away
A phone in your hand, with your eyes glued to a screen, is the default look these days. If you want to improve your appearance and stand out in a good way, put your phone away and engage with people. Not only will this enhance your appearance, but it’ll also make you more perceptive to what’s happening around you. Prove to people evaluating you that you can read social cues.
6. Be the First to Smile
There’s a saying I like: “Strive to be the first: first to nod, first to smile, first to compliment, and first to forgive.”
Something almost magical happens when you make a habit out of going first. It gives other people permission to respond in kind. It also makes you look like a leader, confident and poised. Over time, people will notice that you’re someone who’s dependable and optimistic. This will make you the go-to person for important tasks and assignments, and it’s all because you smiled first.
Be Intentional and Tasteful
There’s a distinct line between conveying a thoughtful or professional physical appearance and being overly vain. Investors and fellow entrepreneurs are advocating that you spend some time considering your appearance, optimizing and improving where necessary. This shouldn’t become a focus or obsession: The goal is to be intentional about your professional appearance so you can maximize opportunities for career success.