Personal Presence: How Much Do Appearances Matter?

Personal-Presence-GroomingHow much are you judged on your appearance at work? Surveys can offer some guidelines as to what senior leaders expect. Sylvia Ann Hewlett of the Center for Talent Innovation surveyed 268 executives and interviewed 4,000 college-educated adults on executive presence, including appearance.

More than a third of surveyed executives considered polish and grooming the most vital to one’s personal presence, ahead of physical attractiveness (less than a fifth). It’s not your body type, height, or weight that matters most. It’s what you do with what you’ve got.

Anyone can improve his or her looks through better grooming habits. While dress standards vary, good grooming signals discipline, competency, good health, and that you care.

In a study at Harvard Medical School, judgments about a woman’s competence, likeability, and trustworthiness were affected by how much makeup she wore. The more makeup worn, the higher the women were rated.

When you make an effort to look polished, you signal to others that you see them as worth your time and investment. It telegraphs that you take your work seriously. Senior leaders say that failure to come through on the grooming front signals either poor judgment or lack of discipline.

Rules of Engagement

Achieving polish comes down to minimizing distractions from your skill sets, the message you’re trying to convey, and the changes you want to influence.

While the specifics of dress, makeup, hair, and grooming vary according to geographical and industry contexts, always make sure your appearance focuses the audience on your competencies rather than act as a potential distraction.

This applies to both genders, of course. But it’s always more delicate to discuss when it comes to women and minorities in the workplace. Women need to avoid dressing in any way that draws attention to their sexuality, yet without appearing frumpy. Men need to be aware of group standards for their gender – how formally or informally do others in their environment dress? Is a suit and tie the norm, or will a polo shirt and slacks suffice?

At the same time, each individual needs to be authentic and not just copy others. When you wear clothes that feel uncomfortable, it detracts from your internal confidence.

Attractiveness Counts

There’s a lot of research that proves that intrinsically attractive people have an easier time:

  • They get hired more often
  • They earn more (taller people earn $789 more per inch per year)
  • They fare better in justice court sentencing
  • Attractive candidates get more votes
  • Attractive students get more attention from teachers

The fact that beautiful people earn more can be attributed to three things:

  1. They are more confident (in 20% of cases).
  2. They are considered more competent by employers (although a wrong assumption in 30% of cases).
  3. They have communication and social skills that enable them to interact well (in 50% of cases).

In the work I do coaching individuals, I’ve found that improving one’s physical looks goes a long way towards inner confidence. When you take care of your appearance and grooming, you become more comfortable socially.

What are your thoughts about this? I’d love to hear from you, contact me here and on LinkedIn..

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