I participated in an initial sales meeting once that “looked” like this: The first salesperson sat in my conference room chair in a too-tight button-down untucked shirt, exposing bulging buttons and abdominal hair. His female colleague wore jeans and a tank top that was distractingly low. The only professional aspect of her outfit was a snug black blazer.
If you were in that meeting, where would your attention be? Bulging belly, cleavage, or their pitch?
I have been immersed in the MSP world for nearly 20 years and have seen too many men and women who look like a scary server room—a confusing tornado of hardware with wires and cables that are haphazardly plugged, twisted, and dusty. In other words, a “hot mess”! When I walk into a new site for the first time that looks like that, I think, “Wow, the current IT provider is inexperienced and lacks attention to detail.” I am pretty confident you’d think that too.
Research reveals that we have no more than seven seconds to make a positive first impression. So what message do you want to convey? Confident or confused? Detail-oriented or lazy? In IT (and any industry) executive presence, or how you appear (clothing and posture), really matters. It is just as important to have a positive visual appearance as it is to have technical expertise. Too many IT professionals avoid the topic of appropriateness of dress in the workplace because it is unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. Instead, they divert their attention to the next client issue that pops up in the queue!
However, if you focus on these three aspects of your appearance you will undoubtedly change how others perceive you.
1. Collars and Creases and (Sport) Coats, Oh Yes! – The unwritten dress code in the IT industry is business casual. Many, though, take the liberty to be too casual. T-shirts, jeans, shorts, and street sneakers might be comfortable, but others may perceive you as having just rolled out of bed. “Business casual” essentially means you do not need to wear a suit, yet you still need to dress professionally and neat. A shirt with a collar always conveys more authority over a T-shirt. Ironed khakis with nice creases running down the leg implies “polished.” Men, be sure to have a sport coat in your wardrobe (and women, a blazer) for those occasions that are more formal, such as delivering a presentation, or holding a new client meeting at the negotiation table.
Most important, be sure that the outfits you select follow my 3 Fs:
- They FIT you. Not too tight and not too big.
- They FLATTER you. The item is the right style, pattern, and cut for your body shape and size.
- They FOCUS on your best features! When you put the item on, where does your eye go? Chances are where your eyes land, is the same spot your colleague’s eyes will go too. Be aware of this when dressing. We don’t want our clothing to be a distraction from our message!
2. Groom or Doom – Be honest: What do you think when you meet someone for the first time who has unkempt, greasy hair, and appears scruffy and unshaven? Is your first instinct, “Wow, this guy has his act together,” or “Yikes, take a shower”? As I mentioned, you have seven seconds or less to make a great first impression. Why blow a promotion or the opportunity to get past the quoting phase in the sales process because of hygiene?
3. Powerful Posture – If I said to you, “Stand like Wonder Woman or Superman,” what pose would you make? Would you stand tall, chin raised just-so, and hands on your hips? Yes! When you are getting ready to present, strike this pose and keep the feeling of it with you when step into the spotlight! Show your prospect, client, or audience confidence without speaking a word. So powerful. But beware, step into the spotlight slouching and you will turn your power into a puff of smoke! It will be gone in an instant!
Once upon a time, not too long ago, many MSPs believed the myth that technical skills were more important than soft skills. Those who believed this noticed a difficulty in establishing trust, credibility, and growth. Those who put equal weight on both lived happily ever after. The end!