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Your Professional Image

Many factors play into professionalism. From appearance to online presence to communication, professionalism is a package – not a single factor. Whether you are getting ready for a job interview or the first day at work, the tips below can help you develop your professional image.

Appearance

Attire for Interviews or Career Fairs

  • Your clothes should add to your image, not distract from your qualifications and skills.
  • Be conscientious of how much perfume, cologne, or aftershave you wear. It’s best to use these sparingly or not at all because some people have allergies or sensitivities.
  • A two-piece matched suit is always the best and safest choice. Conservative colors like navy, dark gray, black, or dark brown are preferable.
  • If you think the industry in which you're interviewing would frown on a suit, or the interview will involve going to a work site where a suit would be inappropriate, look for advice through professional organizations, your professors who have been employed in that industry, and/or by asking the employer directly and politely. One alternative is to wear pressed pants (like khakis) and a dark jacket; less formal than a suit, but still business-appropriate for both men and women.
  • Everything should be clean and wrinkle free. Don't forget to remove external tags and tacking stitches from new clothes.
  • Keep your nails clean and trimmed.
  • Cover body piercings and tattoos if possible.
  • Bring a padfolio, business tote, or briefcase to hold documents and be able to take notes.
  • Backpacks are not appropriate, so find a place to stow your backpack during interviews or Career Fairs.

Additional Guidelines for Women

  • Women should strive for a simple, understated look. For example, if you wear an ornate necklace, make sure your other jewelry is less showy.
  • Skirts should end no higher than directly above your knee.
  • Tailored pants suits are also appropriate for women. If you wear pants, they should be creased and tailored, not tight or flowing.
  • Do not wear tight or revealing outfits, such as shirts with deep necklines.
  • Be sure to have a pair of dress shoes to accompany your suit. Avoid stilettos or chunky platforms. Make certain you can walk comfortably in your shoes.
  • Apply make-up conservatively.

Additional Guidelines for Men

  • In traditional or conservative work environments, men should avoid wearing earrings or other visible piercings.
  • Don’t combine a suit jacket with pants that don’t match (i.e. two different shades of black).
  • Choose a professional tie.
  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt button down shirt, even in the summer.
  • Socks should be dark colored and hit mid-calf so no skin is visible when you sit.
  • Be sure to have a pair of dress shoes to accompany your suit. Shoes can be lace-up or slip-on.
  • Keep your hair and facial hair neatly groomed.

For more ideas and visuals, see our Pinterest board on attire.

On the Job

The following clothing suggestions provide a basic, versatile wardrobe for your first year on the job.

For men:

  • Two suits of different colors in either black, navy blue, gray, or charcoal
  • One blazer that can be worn with dress pants or khakis
  • Black and khaki dress pants
  • Three dress shirts for every suit
  • Six ties
  • Two pairs of shoes
  • Two belts
  • If the organization you work for allows you to wear jeans occasionally or daily, make sure they are a deep blue and a traditional cut. The jeans you wear to work should not be the same pair you wear casually. The same is true for corduroy.

For women:

  • Two suits in dark or neutral colors
  • One dress jacket to go with pants or skirt
  • Dress pants
  • One skirt
  • Six shirts
  • Two pairs of dress shoes
  • Accessories like jewelry, scarves, and handbags, which will add versatility to your outfits
  • If the organization you work for allows you to wear jeans occasionally or daily, make sure they are a deep blue and a traditional cut. The jeans you wear to work should not be the same pair you wear casually. The same is true for corduroy.

Online Presence

Have you Googled yourself, lately? Every webpage that appears with your name collectively creates your online presence. What does your presence say about you? Social media (like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn) is a part of that presence. If websites are appearing in your Google search that you no longer want featured, then contact the webmaster to have the information removed or updated.

If used correctly, social media can portray a positive, professional image and can be used to your advantage! 

Current Information

Keep your profiles up to date. Continually update and manage your profile as a way to stay active. Show employers that you are not dormant by keeping your profiles active.

Status Updates and Pictures

Radiate positivity! Show professional connections and potential employers that you have a good attitude. Complaining about day-to-day stresses creates a negative image. Pictures say a thousand words. What are your pictures saying about you? Go through your pictures and untag or delete any pictures that may be considered unprofessional.

Privacy Settings

Even if you consider your privacy setting to be air tight, get into the mindset that anyone could see your profile. Before posting anything online, think to yourself, “Would I want a recruiter to see this?” or “Could this affect my job search?” Be cautious with your posts, even if you feel like your privacy settings are as secure as possible. Always take a better safe than sorry approach.

LinkedIn

In addition to utilizing the tips for improving your professional image through social media above, creating a LinkedIn profile provides a great professional option to enhance your online presence. LinkedIn can serve are your online resume to market yourself to recruiter, and showcase your recommendations, connections, and skills. You can also use LinkedIn to network with people in your field and find opportunities!

Communication

Communication, in all forms, should have a professional tone. Attitude is a critical component of communication. Always represent yourself in a positive light. This means having a positive attitude about challenges that may come along with a job. For instance, you will want to show recruiters that you have an optimistic outlook on finding solutions for problems, both personally and professionally.

Phone

When you begin to provide your phone number to recruiters, including having it listed on your resume, you want to make sure you have the following:

  • Standard ringback tone (e.g. no songs)
  • Brief, clear, and professional voicemail greeting that states your name

If you include your cell phone number, it’s best to only answer the phone from an unfamiliar number when you are in a quiet, appropriate environment to receive a business call.

When leaving a recruiter a voicemail, keep your message short and within the context of the job.  Be sure to include your name and phone number as well as when you can be reached. Always speak clearly and be in a location that minimizes that background noise so that your message can easily be understood. It is professional to repeat your name and number in case the recruiter cannot hear your statement the first time around.

Email

It is becoming increasingly common for much of your job search communication to take place via email. Despite the informal nature of email, it is still important to maintain a level of professionalism that mirrors any other formal letter. You may use email as the preferred means of communication when the following apply:

  • An employer has instructed applicants to email in references to a job opening.
  • An employer contacts you via email, and you are responding to them.
  • You follow-up to confirm important details you will want in writing, like a scheduled interview time or a job acceptance.

Some situations require more formal correspondence. Email may not be appropriate when a company specifies that printed materials need to be mailed or electronically submitted via the organization’s website. Use discretion discussing job offers, salary, and benefits through email. A phone conversation regarding these topics is the best means of communication to eliminate any misunderstanding.

If you use an email address other than your JMU address, make sure your email address sounds professional and reflects your name (e.g. james.madison@gmail.com).

Like you would with printed correspondence, keep copies of all job search emails you send and receive. Create a system within your email account to organize these emails.