If there is one thing in your career that you must understand and apply, it is the fact that you are a physical representation of the company. You are part of its brand. What you do and say, as well as how you act, both inside and outside the doors of the building you work in, reflects on your employer. Which is why, in most of corporate America, the sloppy dresser rarely gets promoted. It’s why employees get terminated for something they say on their social media. Likewise, if you get caught on camera doing something dumb, and it’s discovered where you work, you should expect it to impact your career negatively.
So, how does this knowledge help my career, you ask? Here are a few simple ideas to show you what I mean.
1. Don’t just follow the dress code, exceed it.
If you are happy with your current position and aren’t looking for a promotion, following the dress code is fine. However, to get someone to look at you as they do a supervisor or manager or even just a higher level professional in the organization, you have to start looking the part first. Observe how everyone who is in a position above you is dressed and then mimic their behavior.
Pay attention to everything, from their hairstyle, to their accessories, all the way down to their shoes. In all my years working at a number of different companies, I have only seen one person who held a higher position than me wearing tennis shoes. The only reason he did was because he was close to retirement and didn’t care whether or not he got a promotion. Every other male I met, however, had a pair of quality leather shoes that were always polished. They almost always wore a dress shirt and slacks. Most of the time they wore a well-tailored suit. I never saw a tattoo. I didn’t observe any nose rings.
I understand that not all companies are the same, which is why I said to observe and mimic; but as a general rule of thumb, business professional attire is still the norm, not the exception.
I appreciate that you want to be unique and display your personality, but this isn’t about you. This is about the company’s brand and the message they want to convey to their customers. You can be unique all you want on your own time at home. As soon as you start representing the company, however, they want you to demonstrate their look, not yours.
2. Be nice.
There is this weird misconception that to get ahead, you need to be a jerk. I realize there are some bosses who fit this description, but it’s actually a lot rarer than it seems. Those who are in upper management are almost never like this. Why? Because to lead a team, you have to get your team behind you. No one actually wants to work for a bully. They only put up with it for so long before they start looking elsewhere to escape. And absolutely no one will go above and beyond for a bully boss. They just do whatever it takes not to get yelled at and won’t go a step further.
Granted, there are times when being aggressive gives you some short-term gain. However, in the long-run, you’ll get a lot further in your career (and life in general), by being polite and professional. That’s not to say that you should be a push-over and let people take advantage of you. Assertiveness and politeness are not mutually exclusive. There is a polite way to say no or to push for something you want. Once you figure out how to motivate and persuade people without being aggressive or imposing yourself on the other person, you’ll find that it’s a superpower. People will not just be willing to help you, they will want to help you or work with you.
The same can be said when you work with customers or vendors. Just consider some of the examples of companies that have had to fire employees over viral videos of how they treated their customers. A few months ago a vape shop got in the press for one of its employees screaming at a guy who was in the store wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap. Now, you might not agree with the customer’s political beliefs, but how did this serve the employee or the company? It didn’t. And both ended up getting hurt by the antics. Would it have killed the employee to have just been nice and get the customer what he wanted so they could both get on with their day? No. Which is why that employee quickly became a former employee.
This also ties into how you behave outside of work. Organizations (outside criminal organizations) don’t want to be associated with mean people. As soon as someone finds out where the bully works, the company probably just lost at least one potential customer.
3. Up your communication game.
How you speak and write to people inside and outside the company conveys something about the business. Most companies want to show internally and externally that they have educated professionals. With that in mind, consider the words you’re using when talking with customers and vendors. Make sure you’re speaking and writing clearly. If you find that you have to do a lot of clarification or explaining what you mean, perhaps you are in need of a communication overhaul. Also, be concise. Say or write what you mean in sharp and clear messages. Determine your key points and use bullet points to make them stand out. Make clear calls to action. Never write or speak in slang.
In a similar vein, if you desire to move up in the company, at some point you’re going to need to be comfortable speaking in public. You will be asked to give presentations, proposals, and so forth. You can’t let the fear of doing it get the best of you. If you’re not there yet, join a local Toastmasters group or get some training on it. It’s a skill that will pay you long-term dividends.
Finally, know how to ask questions. This advice sounds funny, but the truth is, most people are terrible at it. They are either too shy about asking questions from people above them or aren’t patient enough to ascertain what the problem is and just push forward on their best guess. This has horrible consequences. For instance, if you don’t ask questions at the beginning of a project, you’ll likely end up going in the completely wrong direction. This will hurt your reputation and will be a complete waste of your time. Likewise, if you don’t ask the right questions from a customer, you won’t know how to solve their problem. In sales, most of your calls or visits should be devoted to asking a ton of questions, both to get to know them personally, but also to understand their pain points. This way you can connect with them better and know how to propose your solution.
These are only some of the ways in which you are a part of a company’s brand. It’s also important to be punctual, follow through on the promises you make, and be there to work and not play, just to name a few other elements. But, if you get these three things right, you’ll go a long way to making sure that you’ll be someone the company will be proud to call part of their team. If you don’t, you may not be on their team much longer. It’s your choice.