Your Image and Your Wealth

By Sherry Maysonave

Do you want to earn a higher income, win raises and promotions? To get ahead in any career, it is essential that you pay attention to your workplace image. In today's business environment, many have mistakenly bought into the "casual" myth that their attire, or their overall image, makes no difference in their success potential or their performance on the job.

A 1993 study, "Beauty and the Labor Market," conducted by two economists debunks this myth. Economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle found that people who are look above average earned a wage premium of about 5 percent, while those rated as below average or homely suffered a wage penalty of about 9 percent. Their findings also state that attractive people have higher incomes. This was true even for construction work, telemarketing, and other jobs that did not require public contact. To highlight this point, the Wall Street Journal article announcing the project's findings was named, "Good Looks Can Mean a Pretty Penny on the Job."

Whether dressed up or down, anyone can be perceived as attractive. Yes, anyone. There are hundred and thousands of men and women who are far from naturally good looking. Nonetheless, they have a polished way of dressing, carry themselves well, and exude a positive demeanor. Together these qualities make them highly attractive. Often they are perceived as striking and very appealing. Attractiveness is appeal. Appeal is power. Attractiveness is professionally empowering. Here is where appropriate apparel that suits your body-type, a great hair cut, and flattering makeup can become your best friends. An attractive empowered image also acts as a friend by heightening your self-esteem, allowing you to extend yourself in a more confident competent manner.

As human beings, we consistently read other people. We use visual clues based upon someone's attire, posture, grooming, and demeanor in assessing who that person is and how we respond to them. Regarding first and ongoing impressions, communication statistics show that in the first five to thirty seconds, three things are determined about you, whether accurate or not. The three areas that people automatically (whether conscious or not) size you up in are these:

  1. Socioeconomic Status
  2. Educational Level
  3. Desirability

Why do these areas matter? What socioeconomic status you come from does not matter. But to win in the game of business, it's important to appear that you are currently in a middle-to-upper socioeconomic bracket. Why? People like to be associated with winners and other successful people. This is the primary reason to present yourself as if you are already successful regardless of what level of success you have achieved to date. And a successful professional look can be achieved on any budget. Abundant cash flow certainly makes it easier to look rich and successful, but budget limitations can be overcome with the right wardrobe plan. Looking successful does not mean that you drape yourself with status symbols; that can work against you in business. It does mean that you can never overdo real quality in your clothing and accessories and that you must pay attention to the details of your image.

The second consideration is your educational level. Well-dressed people, even casually well dressed, are considered to be smarter and better educated than those sloppily clad. If you project professionalism and dress smartly on a consistent basis, you will attract opportunities that allow you to prove just how smart and capable you are. Well-dressed incompetents get more chances than poorly dressed brilliant folks.

The third point is your "desirability." The desire-ability factor gets into our personal filters. But in business, a polished, professional image is always considered more desirable than an ill-groomed inappropriate image.

In today's digital world, first impressions and the visual aspect have never been more critical. With the technology explosion, business moves at a faster pace today. Harry Beckwith, author of "Selling The Invisible," says people do not simply form impressions, they become anchored to them. Beckwith claims that busy people are apt to make snap judgments, and then base all their later decisions on them. Can you afford a negative impression? No, not when you consider that your success is often tied to others' perceptions of you. A prominent CEO recently said, "If people only knew that it can take two years to undo one negative impression, surely they would try harder."

Business is a game. What you wear is your first move. Just as the best sports equipment can give an athlete the competitive edge, businesslike stylish apparel can gain you a leg up in your career. A product's packaging often determines its marketability and success; your overall image serves as your packaging in the marketplace of your industry. Smart professional attire stamps your demeanor and visual image with power and confidence.

There are many things in life that we have no control over. One thing you can take charge of is your image. You actually have a monopoly on it. Upgrade your image today, maintain it consistently, and watch your income potential soar as opportunities for success and greater success knock on your door.

Also see:

  • Ask your image consultant Sherry Maysonaye your questions
  • Power Up Your Image
  • Personal Power: A case study from "Casual Power"
  • Buy "Casual Power" at Amazon

    Sherry Maysonave is the founder and president of Empowerment Enterprises, one of America's leading communication-image firms. She is also the author of "Casual Power."