The Power of Pretty
The blind auditions on The Voice offer some of the best moments on reality TV. People get a chance to show their pure, raw talent to the world, and the judges choose their team based on talent alone. There’s no weight placed on appearance. After a few weeks, America gets in on the action and starts to vote on whom they think has the best voice. But I stop watching at that point because often the best voice doesn’t win. The power of good looks comes into play.
Although it is hard to admit, we often make decisions based on someone’s appearance. In corporate America, the debate goes on and on: Do looks matter? Numerous studies show that the answer is always the same: Yes.
Your appearance plays a part in your career.
Whether or not this judgment is fair is a whole other story. It’s just the way it is.
At the beginning of most Exec|Comm seminars, we ask participants to think about how they come across to their co-workers, clients, and audience. Then we ask them to put themselves in their audience’s shoes and consider their perception, or more precisely, their reality. Is the audience’s perception being muddied by a short skirt, a wrinkled shirt, an outdated tie? Is your appearance playing a role in whether or not people want to do business with you?
According to a 2011 study by Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, P&G, Boston University, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, it only takes 250 milliseconds for others to judge your competence, likeability, and trustworthiness—based exclusively on how you look. Two hundred-fifty milliseconds equals a quarter of a second. For comparison sake, a complete human blink is about 300 to 400 milliseconds. We make judgments on appearance quicker than we can blink.
It is not about being beautiful. There are very few Scarlett Johanssons and David Beckhams in this world. In most cases, the classic definition of beauty demonstrated in advertisements and glossy magazines remains unattainable. We can’t Photoshop real life.
It’s about taking what you were born with and playing up your aesthetic strengths. No one ever got ahead by focusing on their weaknesses.
Let’s look at a couple of ways you can add some polish to your presence:
- Line it up. Dust off the iron. Clean lines never hurt anyone, but wrinkles hurt your chances of looking professional. Pants that fit just right, tailored shirts, skirts that don’t fall in the “mini” category—all good for you. Match your belt to your shoes and your tie to your socks. Just because you look good in a tiny tank top and tight pants doesn’t mean it is appropriate for casual Friday. Save it for the weekends.
- Shine it up. Anything with the potential to have sheen, you should shine. Shoes, jewelry, teeth, nails. If you ever question whether or not you can get one more wear out of a suit before you take it to the drycleaner, don’t wear it. Keep your bag or briefcase clean and keep it organized. Be as close to impeccable as you can and shine bright.
You might think, “But look at what Steve Jobs wore.” I know, I know. But you are not Steve Jobs (and before you even say it, I’ll throw it out there: You aren’t Mark Zuckerberg either). You are you. Don’t let a sloppy appearance detract from your greatness.
I wish work mirrored the blind auditions on The Voice. How great would it be to get judged solely on your talents (and get to meet Adam Levine!)? Unfortunately, it isn’t reality.
Inspire the world with your talents but don’t forget to dress the part.
When the thermometer reads 100 degrees in NYC this summer, and you happen to see me in my favorite cotton skirt from 2006 and an oversized Gap T-shirt that doubles as a beach cover-up, please remind me to reread this article. No one is perfect.
Rachel Lamb is a consultant at Exec|Comm, a communication skills training firm based in NYC. She helps clients across the globe present, lead meetings, and write with confidence and passion. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 212.252.5863.