Millitary Transition Q&A: Image Matters

More than 50 vendors and colleges were present for the career fair at the Kentucky National Guard’s Readiness Center.
More than 50 vendors and colleges were present for the career fair at the Kentucky National Guard’s Readiness Center in Northern Kentucky on April 14, 2023. (Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Crane/U.S. National Guard photo)

Q.: I wore a uniform my entire military career. How do I dress appropriately for a job on the civilian side? I'm looking to go into financial services.

A.: First, I appreciate that you used the word "appropriate." All style and image should be appropriate to the situation, the people present and the work you'll be performing. There is no one-size-fits-all "uniform" for the professional environment.

Since I am a personal branding specialist, I focus my clients on how they want people to perceive them and the reputation they desire to earn. Your personal brand comes to life in how you consistently behave, promote yourself and present yourself (image) to others. In all of my writing and speaking, I share many of the ways you can uncover your personal brand assets, create a strategy for promoting and positioning yourself, and ways to be intentional in how you show up (image, body language, tonality, etc.)

Image Counts

Image and style are ways we package ourselves to attract other people. When our image is appropriate, we build relationships and can advance toward our goals. When our image is inconsistent with our values or is inappropriate to the situation, we can repel people who hold value to us.

Studies have shown that people will judge us within the first 7-10 seconds of visual contact. They are evaluating our physical appearance, demeanor, language (if any) and tone. How we present ourselves visually is very important to building a positive first impression.

Start with Your Goals

Have a goal for how you want others to perceive you. You might choose words such as "confident, capable, friendly, stylish and polished." Then evaluate whether you are sending the right message with the way you are dressing and presenting yourself.

  • Does your clothing look outdated, though your goal is to be seen as contemporary and polished?
  • Does your wardrobe make you look old while you are trying to network with a younger target market?
  • Are your clothes oversized and sloppy, making you appear heavier than you are?

When shopping for that first wardrobe, choose clothes that are appropriate for your body size and career. Always buy quality: Look for sales and promotions at various stores in your local mall or online and buy the best you can afford. Variety is not as important as quality (particularly in the financial industry).

Purchasing proper attire is an investment that will go far if you spend wisely.

Grooming Counts, Too!

We often focus so much on our clothing and wardrobe that we forget one of the most important parts of an effective image: personal grooming.

When I was a department hiring manager (in financial services, ironically), I immediately noticed when a candidate had dirty fingernails, unkempt hair, wasn't freshly shaved or had a button missing from her jacket.

Some grooming areas to pay attention to:

  • Make sure your clothes are pressed and clean
  • Always polish your shoes
  • Check the bottom of your shoes for holes and stickers
  • Your hair should be neat, trimmed and clean
  • Trim your facial hair to be professional
  • Your nails should be short and clean; women should avoid bright colors or decals on their nails
  • Cover visible tattoos; remove piercings (except ears, for women)
  • Mouth freshener is always helpful

While your appearance, image and style won't land you a job, it certainly can hurt you getting the job you want. Make sure you present yourself in a way that's consistent with your values and interests ("I enjoy wearing a suit") and is appropriate to the situation.

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