Get Ahead in the Workplace: Image Matters

5 Comments 03 June 2009

Women in the office are generally stereotyped into a few roles: That of the receptionist, sitting at the front desk with a smile and nail filing board in hand; The intern, who, if hired by a chauvinist boss, will likely be eye candy and likely only used for making copies and coffee; Or a secretary, essentially the  right-hand gal of any executive, who usually ends up doing his work for him and getting zero credit.  These are the roles that feminism has fought hard against, and no matter your position on the movement, are ones almost no woman wants to claim as her life goal.

Ladies, it’s time to step up the game. Let’s advance in our careers to the top of the ladder, not by protest, but by making a usable plan of action. We will be looking at the different steps to take in this series of Five Ways to Get Ahead in the Workplace.

Lesson One: It’s all about defining who you are and what you represent.

It is great to be confident in oneself and comfortable with who you are. In an ideal world, you should not be judge by how you look, but rather by your character. Wake up. The real world is highly influenced by how one presents herself. Physical appearance is especially a key factor in this for women.

Grooming 101

Keep an overall well-groomed look. This means not only the rudimentary bathing procedure, but ensuring you always look ready for the day. Wear makeup each day you go anywhere there’s a chance of bumping into colleagues, superiors, or business contacts. These days are also not a time to try out the latest theatrical eye shadow look or a blue lipstick. Stay neat, close to natural, and fresh. If you’re unsure about which colors to use or how to apply them, check out any cosmetics area at a department store for a free consultation from someone whose own makeup looks perfect.


While self expression is great, some forms of wearable originality are distracting in a work environment. More importantly, it will take away from the professional image you want to create. Stay away from the obvious wild hair colors (if you just love the way electric blue accents your eye color, get a wig for weekend/party wear) and cuts (including faux-hawks, mullets, and the ‘Britney Spears with a razor’ look). Length does matter, and you may want to consider that hair going past the bottom of your shoulder blades will give you a whimsical, unprofessional ‘girl in the fields’ appearance … also, steer clear of too short, we don’t want people addressing you as “sir.” Go ahead, splurge and get your hair done by a good stylist that will customize the perfect look for you.

A well groomed lady is not complete without the requisite manicure and pedicure. Steer clear of acrylic nails and keep your natural nails healthy and polished. Colors come into play here, and you’ll want to stay away from greens, blues, black, and neon. Try a lovely peach, persimmon, or pomegranate if you want color; Stick to the classic french manicure or a clear polish if you want to keep things simple.

A Sense of Style

A good wardrobe doesn’t have to be an extravagant one. Keep some great staples in your closet to wear to work. Try a solid color knee-length skirt, a pair of classic slacks, a career-appropriate blazer, a few blouses, a good pair of pumps with a 3″ heel, and a good supply of nude or suntan colored pantyhose. Consider Banana Republic, J. Crew, or Nordstroms as some places to look for great career wear.


Everything should fit well. If ever, now’s the time to forget about what size you are and get what looks good on you. Clothing should be fitted, not baggy, but avoid any item being skin-tight. Jewelry should be rather simple and not overly extravagant.

To accent your outfit (black, navy blue, and gray are recommended colors for suits), utilize color tastefully. Try a scarf or a shell in colors suited to your industry, as recommended by feng shui expert Gill Hale: Jade, for those working in publishing or media; Red or purple, for ladies in marketing/advertising, public relations, fashion, or law; White or gray, suited for accountants, bankers, and engineers; Yellow for those in architecture or human resources; Blue or dark blue, great for the communication, health, and travel industries.

Those Bad Habits…

Bad habits may be hard to kick, but you’ll really want to work on a few apparent ones if you want to be taken seriously. One thing that I know many women do is put on makeup, brush their hair, and otherwise groom themselves while in public. If you feel the need to reapply lip gloss, excuse yourself and do it in front of the bathroom mirror, same goes for putting on eyeliner behind your desk… and never brush your hair on the commuter train. These are things that need to be completed before leaving home, or done in the privacy of a restroom or even your car.


Let’s just list the little things that you think no one notices, but they do: Sitting with one foot underneath you, biting your nails/cuticles, excessively shaking or tapping your leg/foot, not keeping good eye contact, forgetting overall good etiquette (see Emily Post). All of these, at the very least, subconsciously create an image of a little girl or diffident person in the minds of  associates.

Now we’re on the way to success! Try working on some tips from lesson one. If you have any questions, please use the comment section below. There is more to come in the series, so add Social Media Mom to your RSS reader to keep up to date as the successive articles are published.

all images via flickr creative commons pool

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5 Comments so far

  1. Pam T. says:

    Totally agree! Women “leaves their mark” in the office because of their image in the workplace. This just proves that the saying “dressed for success” is so true!


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