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May 2009 – Is Image Everything?

When it comes to business, it is considered that in order to succeed, there are a number of attributes an individual should possess.   Good business acumen, excellent communication skills, the ability to work in a team as well on your own initiative, willingness to continually learn, to name just a few. 

There are, however, subjective qualities which, all though are not written rules, people have come to expect in the business environment. One of which is a professional image.

In the current series of the BBC’s Apprentice, it has been interesting to monitor the progress of all candidates.   The way each person operates to capture Sir Alan Sugar’s attention and buy-in intrigues us all.

I have, however, noticed that there is one discussion point raised time and time again on forums related to the show, which talk about the personal image of certain candidates and how this could impact their progress in the selection process.

Whilst Sir Alan is looking at performance, outcomes and profit margins, it is also important for candidates to consider their personal presentation when undertaking each task. 

Lorraine Tighe is often criticised for an ‘unkempt’ look, with some forum contributors confirming that if they were in the position to hire, they wouldn’t appoint someone that did not portray a presentable image as it could directly reflect on the business itself.

Kate Walsh and Debra Barr are always very well presented for the tasks in hand, as are a majority of the men in this current series who are ‘suited and booted’, as they say.

I believe the projection of a professional image is vital for all business people, regardless of the industry you operate in or the size of your business. There are many factors that can impact on a company’s visual identity and none more than customer-facing employees.

The presentation of a company shapes a customer’s view of that business. Therefore, it is important that all employees match the ethos the company is aiming to project, in both what is being communicated and in their general appearance.

The introduction of a dress code or a corporate uniform is one way of ensuring staff members are professionally dressed, and in turn project a positive image of the company.  Choosing an appropriate dress code or uniform can, however, be a challenge. 

Today, corporate attire needs to be versatile enough to be worn for many different roles, in different climates and at varying positions within the hierarchy.   It is also important to ensure your workforce dress appropriately for the job-in-hand.  For example, the Apprentice’s Ben Clarke is continually seen sporting his navy pin-striped City suit, regardless of the task - even when digging sandcastles on Margate’s beach!

Ultimately, Sir Alan is looking for the best person for the job, and their ability is of course the most important consideration. However, never underestimate the impact personal appearance has in business; remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

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