Valuing Your Professional Presence Pays Off


“In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.”

This is a quote by the famous designer Coco Chanel. I encourage my students to be unique; I teach my students to show their individuality when creating a personal website or LinkedIn account. Being unique displays confidence and self-assurance and that is what employers like to see. So, if applying for a new position or going for that next level within an organization, it is important to display a unique you, and not a copycat interpretation of someone else.

Your goal is to obtain a “professional presence.”

Susan Bixler (1991), the author of Professional Presence, defines the term as a dynamic blend of poise, self-confidence, control, and style that enables a person to command respect in any situation.

Without “professional presence,” achieving a high-level position within
an organization is dubious.

What Does It Take To Obtain Professional Presence?

first-impressions-last-vera-teller-phdThe first step to obtaining personal presence is to realize the importance of first impressions. People form and retain impressions of others at the first meeting. These impressions are difficult to change, as later information is ignored or judged based upon the first impression. A first-impression is obtained within 50 milliseconds of meeting someone. Obviously, these fast impressions are superficial; but, if they have such an immediate impact, it is worth managing them; especially, if it is important to you to move up within an organization or obtain that dream job.

Having Tough Conversations

As Director of Applications for several companies, it was my “unpleasant” duty to talk to several people about their appearance. On one occasion, I had to speak to a woman who emitted an unpleasant body odor. This was extremely difficult because several of her co-workers complained about the odor, but she did not professional-presence-vera-teller-phdacknowledge the odor. After our discussion, I later came to learn that she went back to her coworkers to confirm my statements. Once she was convinced that she indeed had an unusual body order, she took action and fixed the issue.

On another occasion, I had to speak to a man who came to work each day looking as though he slept in his shirt. The shirt was wrinkled, and he looked disheveled. This situation turned out a lot better than the previous situation where I spoke with the woman regarding body odor. The person with the wrinkled shirt was very appreciative of the comments and suggestions. In fact, after our talk, he not only started to iron his shirt but paid attention to his grooming habits. He credits this change to meeting and marrying his current wife!

And, If That Wasn’t Enough…

On one occasion, I was interviewing a man for a position at our company. Unfortunately, for him, his scheduled interview time was after lunch. He neglected to “look in the mirror” prior to coming into the interview. His beard was littered with food. Needless to say, the interview ended abruptly.

To Hire or Not To Hire

While I agree with Coco Chanel that we all must embrace our own style, the image we project is extremely important and should be taken seriously. Dressing appropriately for an interview is mandatory. Ripped jeans and flip-flops are not appropriate when going on an interview. There is an unwritten “dress code” in organizations too. “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have” is a saying that has credibility. Look around and notice how executives dress. As an employee for Trader Joe’s, all executives wore Tommy Bahama Hawaiian shirts rather than the seven free Hawaiian shirts given to all employees.


making-a-good-first-impressionMoreover, the foundation of a good image is self-care. People want to surround themselves with people they aspire to be like. Self-care is evident when people look healthy; good indicators are eating healthy, exercising, getting enough sleep, and drinking plenty of water. People can tell when people do not take care of themselves. This communicates to others an individual who is insecure, stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed.

The business professional must pay attention to grooming and cleanliness. Nails manicured, teeth maintained, beards groomed, clothes ironed, and odors in check are necessities, not nice-to-have. The appearance and behaviors one projects communicate an image others observe and remember. It is important to put your best foot forward from the start.

The Person behind the Resume

It is said that when a good salesperson is speaking over the phone they will always have a mirror on their desk. Why a mirror? Because a smile can be felt through the sound of one’s voice. This is the foundation of your professional presence. Start noticing how executives dress. Then, start to make small changes to reflect the image that best represents that style. Obtaining “image” help from a coach, clerks at department stores or your significant other are options that cost little to nothing.

If you are interested in that dream job or a promotion to the next level, begin by evaluating your image. Not only will it help your career, but it may enhance your personal life as well.

#ProfessionalPresence #Career #Collegetocareer

Vera Teller is a professor at California State University Dominguez Hills. She is a Ph.D., and has written two books to help her students navigate the bumpy road from college to career, Check It Off! and Navigate Your Way to the Career You Want. She lives in Southern California, is an in-demand College-to-Career Speaker, and consults with parents and students on navigating the entire process.

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