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Does Your Professional Persona Work For You?

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So a student walks into a job interview with a mid-size accounting firm in Manhattan. His uncle arranged the interview and the student had not visited with Career Services. Let’s look at his professional persona – the image he projects to those in the world of work. Our young man is dressed in a suit with a white shirt and tie, black shoes and is carrying a leather portfolio with his resume tucked inside. Let’s zoom in a little more closely at the image he projects to the interviewer.

His suit is dark in color which is good, but a closer look will see that the cuffs are a bit worn and there is a slight stain on the collar. His tie almost matches his suit, but not quite; it looks like he was in a rush and did not pay attention or he did not know how to match. His shirt is white which is good, but the cuffs are frayed and the fabric is pilled in the front and his top button is unbuttoned. His shoes are black, but, you guessed it, scuffed. He is carrying a leather portfolio which again is good, but, you guessed it again, the edges are frayed. So, here is a young job candidate who is eager to get the position, but whose appearance screams, “I’m not interested enough in this position to be concerned about my professional persona. Furthermore, on my interview I’m supposed to present my best self, when I get the position and you send me out to meet a client, in all likelihood I’ll be even less careful about how I present myself.” Did he get a second interview? No! He learned quickly and emphatically that, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!”

Let’s look more closely at this concept called “professional persona.” It is comprised of a number of facets, including clothes, personal grooming, accessories, vocabulary, humor, posture, facial expression, attitude, body language, nervous actions and handshake. It would be instructive to examine each aspect. Let’s start with the most obvious and move to those subtle aspects that a candidate might not even consider.

Clothes – Suit and Tie Since candidates should be dressing their best for the interview, your clothes speak volumes to an interviewer. A dark, well-pressed, clean suit for men and women says, “I’m concerned about how I appear to you and to those I will come in contact with in the position you have available. You can be sure I will represent my employer well.” An astute interviewer will pick up immediately if your suit is not well-made; it is a wise investment to buy a really good suit which will look better and last longer. The experts tell us that spending $600 for a suit at an upscale department store is a wise investment. Do not forget to have your suit professionally tailored; a great suit which does not fit properly will not help you.

You need to make sure that your tie complements your suit. If you are not good at color matching, ask some who is, like the salesman, your spouse or a fashion-savvy friend. Go with the current styles.

If you wear a yarmulke, make sure it looks fresh. Men tend to wear one every day and after a while it looks worn and not clean. As an aside, don’t go to the interview without one, and then show up the first day wearing a yarmulke. No one likes to be fooled!

Clothes – Shirt You cannot go wrong with a clean, lightly starched, wrinkle-free, long-sleeve white shirt with no signs of wear. It should fit well and be tucked neatly into your pants. This is no time for shirttails to be sticking out. Make sure your belt is not worn.

Personal Grooming This element includes a neat haircut, a clean, fresh smelling body, clean, well-trimmed fingernails, pleasant breath, and good dental hygiene. If you have a beard, it should be neat. Women should follow the guideline that “less is better” with respect to jewelry, make-up and perfume.

Accessories – Portfolio and Pen A professional-looking leather portfolio will enhance your professional image. A vinyl or plastic portfolio will detract from your image. Invest in a good pen; pulling out a plastic Bic pen (even though it works well), cannot compare to an image-enhancing Cross or Waterbury pen. Also, when you place your resume copies in your portfolio, make sure they remain wrinkle-free. Remember, every detail counts. As someone once said, “The devil is in the details.”

Speaking Voice and Vocabulary Enunciate your words distinctly. Use a professional vocabulary; stay away from slang expressions which present you as too casual or unprofessional. There are many books that can assist you in improving your word choices. Be wary not to speak over the head of the interviewer.

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