Creating your image (and the value of doing so)

Want a promotion? A job? Image counts.

by monsterstaff, published 03/14/2014
This is an excerpt from "The Critical First years of Your Professional Life," a book by author Robert L. Dilenschneider, founder and chairman of The Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations and communications consulting firm headquartered in New York City. The image you create for yourself depends on what you want. Maybe what you want is for the powers-that-be to perceive you as promotable. Maybe you want to be left alone to do your work. Or perhaps you want to be seen as a leader. What you want is how you should appear. That's the bottom line. But your image must have substance. The days of an empty suit — or an empty skirt — are over. Image alone is not enough. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, many people could get away with merely looking the part. There were vice presidents who looked like vice presidents, and they could do well for them- selves even if they weren't great leaders or had no special expertise. Today you're expected to present yourself well and have something unique to offer the marketplace. Both are essential. On the other hand, if you have plenty of substance but you don't have a suitable image, you probably won't go too far. Image basically comes down to certain habits you can acquire.. Let's say Pete has good grooming habits, and his image is that of a man who takes care of himself. Another part of his image is his impeccable manners. In an age of boorish behavior, Pete stands out because he treats everyone with respect. Before he enters your office, he asks if it's a good time to see you; after he completes a transaction with you, he'll make sincere inquiries about your family. People like to have Pete around. Another of Pete's traits is that he sees the positive aspects of a problem. As a result, bosses can always count on him to raise the morale at a meeting. Pete has cultivated a good image. You should too. Good grooming and etiquette are essential. But remember that image isn't a persona of the day or a flavor of the month. It won't work out in the office if you act like a team player today, but tomorrow you act like a creative genius who only works alone, and the next day you act like a leader. You can't put on an act; you have to develop a consistent demeanor and a series of behaviors that continually give off the right signals. For example, suppose you want to be perceived as promotable. Every day you should: Dress like those in the level above you. Don't dress well only when you have an official meeting with the boss. People see you every day. And it isn't simply your boss who decides whether you get promoted. Usually a number of other people also have input on such decisions. Be helpful. Those who get promoted are seen to be genuinely interested in others' well-being. Few companies want to promote a narcissist. Establish friendly relationships in other departments. Those connections may help you get a promotion and will certainly be useful to you after you are promoted. Be energetic. People who get ahead always have an extra tank of energy to switch over to. But you don't want to seem too animated. Be relaxed. Given the stress and downsizing in the current job market, nobody wants a Chicken Little running around screaming, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” A relaxed persona will give your superiors confidence in you. Go the extra mile — whatever that mile is. Maybe the boss, or the boss's boss, needs a report right away. Volunteer to do it. You want a reputation for being dependable and productive during crises. Have a sense of humor. That shows you can detach yourself emotionally from a situation and look at things objectively. Keep your humor low-key, however. Belly laughs are seldom appropriate in the workplace, unless the boss leads the merriment. Smile instead. Be eager to learn. Go for an advanced degree if the organization encourages that. Often, simply being in an MBA program gives you status and makes people see you as a go-getter. (On the other hand, if the organization is frenetic and always on the brink of chaos, it might not look kindly on your spending time getting a degree for yourself. But that doesn't mean you can't keep learning more about the company's inner workings.) Be enthusiastic. Companies say they want to hear your reservations about a project, but they often really don't. They might label you as negative. The workplace is not a democracy, and freedom of speech should be used cautiously. These are just some of the habits you'll need to acquire if you want to get ahead. You may acquire them slowly, through trial and error. For example, if you want to be perceived as energetic, it might take time to get your rhythm right. If at first you come across as overly animated, you will soon realize that, just like an athlete, you have to pace yourself. If you want to be perceived as being just as energetic at 7 p.m. as you are at 9 a.m. that means not indulging in a good, long yawn and not confiding in people how you can't wait to get home and go to sleep. Often the powers-that-be judge your energy level by how you handle yourself after official quitting time. Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Citadel Press, from The Critical First Years of Your Professional Life by Robert L. Dilenschneider. Copyright © 2014 For more information please visit http://www.dilenschneider.com and http://www.kensingtonbooks.com  
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