Beyond Business Casual – Personal Branding Part 2: Creating a Professional Image

Studies show that most people will make decisions about who you are within the first 30 seconds of meeting you and some of those impressions can be difficult to alter once formed.  This is one of the reasons why I emphasize the importance of dressing professionally particularly when you are going to a networking event or interview.  What you wear will certainly have an impact on what impression people form of you. Your physical appearance provides people with many clues to your personality and traits.

But personal branding is not just about having the right staples in your wardrobe and knowing when to wear pin stripes or a red blazer; it is about understanding yourself, your strengths, your passions, and what makes you unique.  When we look at corporate brands we see that they focus on their greatest quality and go with that.  They do not dilute their message by trying to be everything to everyone.  That is just not possible.  The same thing applies when you are determining your personal brand.  As branding guru William Arruda explains, we need to be authentic about our brand.  Are you a Volvo, a Mercedes, a Mazda?  All of these are valuable for different reasons and will appeal to different people.  Your personal brand needs to highlight what makes you exceptional “a unique promise of value.”

Finding a way to be authentic about who you are and what you can contribute is not only going to help you with building a strong personal brand, but it will go a long way in ensuring that you find a career and a company that brings out your best traits.

You can start to figure out what your brand is by:

  • Thinking of what words you would use to describe yourself.  Ask friends, colleagues, and family members the same thing
  • Thinking about your core competencies and character traits and which ones you want people to associate with you in a professional setting
  • Identifying social traits that you possess and want to incorporate into your professional image and which ones you think you need to minimize

When talking about building a positive professional image Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts states “when you present yourself in a manner that is both true to self and valued and believed by others, impression management can yield a host of favorable outcomes.”  Furthermore, spending time creating an image that is not honest will not be sustainable and will lead to negative consequences professionally and even personally.

Further, Dr. Roberts asserts that we need to ask ourselves

  • What do I want people to say about me when I am not in the room?
  • What am I concerned people say about me when I am not in the room?

If you feel there is a significant incongruence in the responses to these questions, then it is time to start developing a strategy to manage your brand.

Your strategy should include a few different facets including:

Quality of Work – be on-time, accurate, and responsive.  Remember the qualities most admired in an employee are competence, character and commitment, so try to demonstrate these at every turn

Physical Appearance – professional dress, make-up, and accessories that reflect your personality but are appropriate to the industry that you work in and the corporate culture

Responsiveness – keep on top of your emails, voicemails and respond to priorities, particularly those that impact someone else’s ability to do their work

Accountability – we would all like to be right all of the time, but you will gain more respect if you are willing to take responsibility when something does not go as planned

Communication and Listening  – In addition to being responsive you want your communication to be clear, concise and respectful.  Take the time to listen to others and take on their ideas.  DO NOT SEND Flame Mail – if someone has made you angry or sent you an email that has infuriated you, go directly to the person to discuss the issue (once you have calmed down) never write an angry email, as I guarantee it will get forwarded, misread and only come back to haunt you.

Basic Office Etiquette – avoid being too loud or disruptive, particularly if you work in a cubicle setting. Be sensitive about what you bring for lunch (tuna salad and hard boiled eggs could leave everyone suffering from the smell for the rest of the afternoon).  Respect people’s privacy (again in a cubicle setting you may overhear personal conversations etc.  Do not spread gossip.)  If you break it fix it. Do not leave the photocopier jammed or out of paper, do not leave a mess in the lunch room . . . Your co-workers are not your personal assistants and even if someone is, it is not their job to clean up after you. It just shows that you are considerate and respectful if you look after things. Be punctual for work and meetings in particular.  It is so rude to leave others waiting and it sends the message that your time is more important than theirs.

If you take some time to discover who you are in a professional setting, what your best qualities are, what you bring to a team and then try to reflect those qualities in your behaviour, dress, and work then you will find that not only will you feel more confident, but you will be more likely to achieve success and find yourself in a career that is well suited to you.

For further ideas and insights on this topic check out:

Q&A with Dr. Laura Morgan Roberts –

William Arruda’s Blog  –

5 Steps to creating a professional image –

Here are some more images to help guide you in dressing for work.  Remember that you should always pay attention to the attire of colleagues and dress in a professional manor that maches with the style of the company.

For Casual Friday:

Many people make the mistake of letting everything go on casual Friday.  You want to make sure that even if you are wearing jeans that you still look sharp and put together, not sloppy.  No ripped jeans, graphic t-shirts etc.

casual work wearcasual work wear

Here is a reasonable range of dress from casual to business and all work appropriate:

casual to business dress for women

Some more business casual:

business casual for women

Published by lessstressedstudents

Clare Tattersall is the Manager of Undergraduate Services for the Faculty of Engineering at The University of Western Ontario.

One thought on “Beyond Business Casual – Personal Branding Part 2: Creating a Professional Image

  1. I just started this blog back in November although I had been wanting to start a blog for a couple of years. Now that I am doing it I am finding it incredibly rewarding and a lot of fun. Plus, it forces me to take the time to do some research and stay up to date on latest trends in career development.

    Thanks for the positive feedback,

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