Do you want to Dress Comfortably or Achieve your Professional Goals?

A first impression is made in 4 seconds. This means that probably what you say will have no impact on that first impression.

There are several studies that prove that 93% of communications are non-verbal, and a big part of that non-verbal communication is related to the clothes we wear. By clothes, I don’t mean the brand you wear. I mean wearing the appropriate clothes for the environment you are in, for the message that you want to communicate, and for the goals that you want to achieve.

We’ve talk about this topic several times during the past year at the MBA program and there are strong emotions around it. One important step to knowing how to dress is to determine your priority: Is it dressing comfortably or achieving your professional goals? I get it, a suit and tie may not be that comfortable, especially during the summer. But you’ll do whatever it takes if your WHY is big enough. One of my classmates wrote a great article about why to pursue an MBA, which could help you identify your purpose.

I want to share a story that will bring perspective to the topic of delivering a message of professionalism and competence:

Actions speak louder than words

A lady was driving her car, and was in a rush. The light just turned yellow so she accelerated to not miss it. The car in front of her started slowing down, which is the right thing to do when the light turns yellow. This infuriated the lady because it was further delaying her.

The lady starts honking her horn and screaming at the guy in the vehicle in front of her. At this point, while she was making violent arm movements, she hears a police officer ordering her to get out of the car.

She is taken to the police station and put into a holding cell. After a while the police officer comes back and apologizes “I am sorry, there has been a misunderstanding. You see, you have in the back of your car a sticker that says ‘Baby inside please be careful’, you have another sticker with the sign of peace, and you have several religious stickers. We were sure that the only logic explanation behind the situation was that the car was stolen.”

Consistency is key to delivering a message and building your personal brand. The way you dress is a big part of that message. These are important steps that you need to take to dress according to your goals:

  • Understand Your Environment: You have to know what it is expected, in terms of dress code, within the industry that you want to work at. Some industries, like Investment Banking or Consulting, will probably require a suit and tie. And probably white and light blue shirts, no crazy or shiny colors. On the other hand, if you work in a tech startup there will probably be a more flexible dress code.
  • Be in line with the Requirements: Most events will have a dress code, and it is important that you know exactly what that means. One thing that I’ve learned after a year in an MBA program and full of networking events is that you will never go wrong if you overdress, but underdressing can really hurt you. You can always take your tie or jacket off. When in doubt you can always ask the person that sent you the invitation for the event what are the exact requirements. Don’t be afraid that if you do it you may appear ignorant. The event organizer will probably appreciate that you want to help make their event great by going exactly in line with their dress code.

This is the first two steps you need to take. Next, I want to share some information that has helped me create a simple yet effective wardrobe. One that, without breaking the bank, has allowed me to communicate a consistent message of competence and professionalism in every event that I attend. How to take care of your clothes, and especially your shoes, is another critical step. I will share this and more in the upcoming blog posts.

If you think there is another key step in this process, please leave it in the comments. I would love to share ideas and insights on this topic.

Learning and sharing knowledge is my passion, let’s connect if it’s yours too.

Alejandro I. Sanoja