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Does it matter how you dress?

I’ve always felt that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they dress, especially in business. I know this may seem a bit old school, now that we are in the age of Zoom, with most people in sweats or yoga pants from the waist down.

But when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal (December 3, 2023) entitled, “Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Looking the Part Could Land You That Job” I felt validated.

The stats haven’t changed:  according to psychological studies, physical appearance influences 55% of a first impression and most people get that first impression within 7 seconds of meeting.  Experiments by Princeton researchers even suggest that people can make accurate judgements of others within 1/10 of a second.

That’s why, even when I am in a Zoom meeting, I take the time to visualize in advance the impression I am going to make on the person I am meeting with.  I consider what color shirt will make me seem either approachable or intense. Last week I was interviewed for a Board position for an agriculture enterprise, so I wore a farmer-looking plaid shirt.

When I was a speaker at an international conference (via Zoom), I made sure the area behind my desk was neat (I did a preview on-camera) and I wore a silk shirt and jewelry that would come across well on camera.  I also got a ring light to use during Zoom speeches to get rid of the shadows.  I don’t recommend people blur their backgrounds or use an image background – it always seems to cut off people’s hair and is distracting to the viewer.

So, if you are interviewing for a job (either in person or virtually), be mindful of what you are wearing.  I usually find out what the culture is at the company and the dress code, and dress accordingly.  I have worked with a Color Specialist for decades, so I know which colors will help establish better rapport (my eye color), will improve communication (my skin tone) or will make me look serious (navy blue, as I do not look good in black: makes me look washed out and pale).  If you are interested, check out her website .

Back to that WSJ article. Some highlights of the article:  Applying for a programming assignment? On your resume, wearing glasses and having a computer visible increase your chances of being hired. For design and media-related jobs? Flashing a smile and using a high-quality photo on your resume will help.

Since I mostly work with executives, what I recommend most often is to not dress too casually.  Wrinkled t-shirts, hoodies and ripped jeans are not appropriate in the office.  I was on a Zoom call with a prospective client a few months ago and could not help but notice she sat slumped in her chair wearing a hoodie during our call.  It definitely made an impression on me about her level of professionalism.  Conversely another prospect sat up straight, wore a vest over his checkered shirt and even though he was wearing a baseball cap during our Zoom call, I knew he was intent and serious. Visual impressions matter.

So next time you are dressing for work, or getting ready for a virtual meeting, look in the mirror (or preview via your computer camera) and notice how you will appear to others.  If you are going to have an intense business meeting, make sure you are physically projecting the image you want that is complementary to your conversation tone.

Bonus tip:  If you are going to meet with a client with a group of your coworkers, it is appropriate to discuss the dress code with your teammates in advance.  You would not believe how many people are aghast when they see how their coworkers show up to a client meeting.  Details matter and so do first impressions.

Onward and upward,

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