Professional Presence: Its Importance to Your Career

To progress in a business career, you would do well to borrow the concept of “positioning” from the world of marketing. This is a complex process with a simple objective: to make a target group of people think of a particular product or service or brand as the best of its kind and the one they should choose.

What does this have to do with you? If you have been passed over for raises and promotions even though you know you are well qualified and do a good job, maybe it’s time to consider your professional presence — or lack of it. You need to establish your “professional presence”.

Where do you start? Here are three aspects of your working life in which you can make the necessary changes.

• Visibility

Think of yourself and what you do as a product, and the people you work with as clients. Just as manufacturers know that people will forget their products if they don’t remind them through advertising and other activities, understand that you must make sure the right people know what you do and how valuable you are to the organization.

It’s your responsibility to know what skills and talents you have to offer, and what value they create. Look for assignments and projects that will showcase your special abilities. Take any opportunity to talk about the company to senior people, and learn as much as you can about the company so that you can do so intelligently. Can you reasonably and logically introduce something about your own department or work into the big picture?

Look out for creative ways to position yourself as a professional, whatever your job may be, so that the right people recognize your potential for upward movement and growth in the organization.

• Image

It’s said that we make up our minds about people within six seconds of meeting them. Obviously, these fast impressions are superficial, but if they are having such an immediate impact then surely it is worth managing them.

How do you dress for work, and what does your appearance say about you? The gradual loosening of the rules around how we dress for work has been welcomed by most, but many have shown lack of judgement in how they apply the new styles. What is “business casual” anyway? It’s openness to interpretation is what causes the problem. A great deal depends on the culture of your organization, what type of business you are in, your geographic location and whether it is a city or small town, and whether or not you meet personally with clients.

There is one old piece of advice that still stands: dress for the job you want, not the one you have. Who are the people you want to respect you? Whose good opinion would you like to cultivate? Take a look at how they present themselves, and consider how you might emulate them. If he always wears a jacket to meetings, don’t show up in shirtsleeves; if she wears a smart pantsuit while others show up in jeans, veer towards her style. People relate to others who are like them, and your appearance is an important first step. In response to a survey I did on the subject of business casual dress, one woman said she liked to stay fairly formal because, as she said, “I’m young and pretty. It’s hard enough to be taken seriously, and if I show up in jeans and a teeshirt I don’t stand a chance.” Is your appearance sabotaging your professional presence?

• Relationships

Develop and cultivate a respectful relationship with your peers, those above and below you on the organizational chart, and clients.

We all know people who take every opportunity to gossip and backstab their colleagues. This is not professional conduct. In business, as in life, my mother’s advice is still good: if you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all.

Try as we might to be positive, it’s not possible to be upbeat and bright all the time. Still, performing your job professionally means giving the same service with the same attitude regardless of your mood. It’s not the client’s fault that you overslept this morning and missed your train; act like the professional you are, and your mood will take care of itself.

You must see yourself as a professional, and then work on creating that impression for others. You will begin to see a change in the way people relate to you and the type of projects you are asked to undertake. If you are job-hunting, your interviews will be more successful.

Cultivate a reputation for doing things well and on time, getting along well with others and providing first class service to clients. That’s professional presence, and it can be a strong force in helping you climb the career ladder.