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When Danette Jordan joined New York-based Austin Nichols & Co. Inc., owner and manufacturer of Wild Turkey Bourbon, as well as other wines and spirits, as a marketing assistant, she wore suits–something most of the other administrative assistants didn’t do. It paid off. “My first boss told me that she appreciated that I took the time to look professional,” says Jordan.
Soon, her boss started asking Jordan to attend client meetings with her. Part of the reason, says Jordan, 36, was that her appearance was “professional enough to make my boss feel comfortable taking me to those meetings.”
Jordan moved up and became a brand manager. Three years ago, Jordan’s professionalism was rewarded when the CEO tapped her to become a project manager in human resources. Jordan is now the director of organizational development.
While it’s important to have the content down, says Jordan, “In the business world, your appearance is often what people see first.”
In an age where branding yourself is important, standing out from the crowd and having a pulled-together, professional presence is critical. Here’s some expert advice to help you polish your skills in four critical areas: appearance, verbal presentation, networking, and business etiquette.
Strutting your professional style
If your goal is to move into the upper echelons of the corporate world, image will play a major role. Michael L. Smith, assistant store manager for American TV and Appliances in Waukesha, Wisconsin, has found that a professional appearance helps him project authority, both in dealing with the salespeople he supervises and with customers.
“I think it’s easier for customers to relate to someone who looks professional,” says Smith, 31. When he began his career with the company as a salesperson, he stood out by occasionally wearing suits. He says his style changed after his move from sales manager to assistant store manager.
“I now wear suits more often and in darker colors, with maybe a yellow-accented tie,” he says. Smith says that while he enjoys wearing accessories, he sticks to his wedding ring and a nice watch for work.
For women and men, the key to executive style is to “dress for the particular office in which you work and to use small status symbols that show you belong to your profession,” note Marjabelle Young Stewart and Marian Faux in their book, Executive Etiquette in the New Workplace (St. Martin’s Press, $14.95).
The office not withstanding, executives find themselves in many business settings that call for various modes of dress. The challenge? Maintaining a seamless, professional look in all of them. Whatever the situation, formal or informal, “You always want to [project] a professional image,” says Rica Duffus Cuff, president and founder of Etiquette Works Inc. in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
Cuff offers these expert tips:
On the golf course or tennis court. For men, good quality, conservative golf and tennis attire is acceptable. Golf and tennis shoes should be well maintained. Cuff advises having a sports coat handy, in case the outing turns into a dinner affair.
For women, the same general rules apply. Collared shirts are acceptable