Surviving Corporate Politics Part 2: Keeping Up Appearances

By: Gary Whittaker

Never a 2nd chance to make a 1st impression, or so the saying goes. We all know that when someone is introduced into your work environment for the first time, their peers size them up immediately. How they are dressed, how they talk, and how they set up their workspace. Especially in large companies, where there is constant personnel movement, keeping up your appearance is a full time task. In smaller companies, how you compose yourself from Day 1 is of utmost importance. We will start with the basics:

Work Clothes: Dress up. Not in terms of church going attire, but as your immediate superiors. In cases where there is a big gap between your level, and that of your manager, than take the all but 1 approach. If your boss wears ties with his suit, then leave that out. If he wears a jacket, but no tie, then wear a nice shirt and pants. In all cases, you have to stand out and be noticed against the grain. When companies look to cut staff, they want to keep those that they feel are flexible, and like-minded. Fitting into their image gives your boss the impression that you will follow his lead, and make yourself an asset for his goals. The bible has a verse about respecting the Sabbath, and keeping it holy. For our corporate survivor, that day is Casual Friday. On Fridays, you should never wear a suit jacket, or a tie. You should also never, under any circumstance, wear JEANS! Talk to your local clothing retailer for some upscale casual wear.

For the advanced: Keep a spare, neutral colored blazer in the office, either at your desk or in a closet. If you find that you do not have enough matches clothes for it, then buy an extra pair to keep at the office as wear. Spend the money to get your pants and jackets tailored to fit properly. Keep a pair of work shoes for office use only. Work shoes can be fairly expensive, so you will want to make them last.

Most importantly, unless you have a sizable budget for clothes, avoid the "in" trends. Usually, 1 "in" suit a year is enough. Of course, sitting down with your colleagues, and showing your white, or unmatching socks spoils the effect, no matter how expensive the attire, so always keep a pair of black socks handy.

Grooming: Keep yourself shaved. Mustaches and beards are okay, as long as you keep it trimmed at ALL times. Get your hair cut by a stylist, and not a barber. You are not 12 anymore. If you are going bald, deal with it. You are not fooling anyone by placing pieces of hair over your bald spots. Make sure to take care of any "special" issues you may have, like, for instance, the famous Unibrow. You do not want to be thought of as Burt from Sesame Street. Facial piercings are an obvious no, and even earrings should be removed. Your teeth should be in good condition. There are plenty of whitening products on the market, so make sure you buy them. Your pockets should always have a breath mint, and NEVER gum. If you drink coffee, or eat, you should be popping those mints right afterwards. It is too late if you run into someone unexpectedly.

For the advanced: Pay attention to any skin conditions you may have, and always keep the applicable creams or lotions at your desk. You should always keep a box of Kleenex right next to your lotion bottle, and keep extra's somewhere close by. For the mornings where you just simply forgot to shave, keep an extra disposal razor (and cream) in your desk. Last thing you need in your desk is a toothbrush, toothpaste, and yes, even dental floss for after lunch. You never want to be seen picking the spinach out of your teeth.

Getting Organized: Your desk should never look that it was hit by a strong wind, or even a light breeze. While you may have a mind that never forgets a detail, you will never inspire confidence in those that see your working conditions. All meetings should be logged into a calendar of some sort. All papers should be properly categorized into folders, and in a cabinet if possible, or in a neat stack if necessary. Your desk should be clean, and devoid of any crumbs, stains or other unnatural marks or blemishes. You should only be allowed 1 loose paper and pen at your desk. That will be for writing your to-do list for the day, and any other relevant information that may need to be noted down quickly. If your company does not offer a regular sized book, then you must buy one yourself. You should never attend a meeting without it.

For the advanced: In an organized setting, make sure to place any certificates, work related awards, or any other important documentation in plain view. It should be the first items seen by someone as they approach your desk. You may want to keep a bottle of Windex in your desk, but I would keep that low key. You don't want people thinking you are a freak! If you do not have a portable device where you can access your calendar, than look for your availability a few weeks in advance before you attend a meeting. You always want to give the impression that you know what you have to do for the next few weeks.

If you follow those steps, you will increase the level of confidence of your boss about your abilities. And while the illusion of control is never a substitute for good, hard, honest work, following these steps will help make sure you do not get overlooked by management. Too often, decisions are made fast, and the last thing you need, is for your boss's gut feeling to choose someone else, because you appearance of sloppiness, even if the work you hand in is on-time and well done.

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