Following is the second part of a series based upon a panel discussion by successful women graduates of Northern Illinois University assembled by Denise Schoenbachler, Dean of the Business school on the topic of:
Lessons from the Front: If We’d Only Known this Back Then!
Part Two focuses on comments from Rita Hoey Dragonette, Dragonette Consulting:
— Don’t let your visual or verbal image get in the way of the value you have to offer.
–Appearance is key, understand this early. You will be judged instantaneously and throughout your career on your astuteness in understanding what is appropriate for the work environment. This will never change and yes, it is more of an issue for women than men. Men primarily need to keep from looking sloppy; expectations of women will always be more stringent. You want to go for polish—well-fitting classic clothes, a flattering haircut, appropriate makeup. Don’t be too trendy or sexy on one end of the spectrum or throw together your look as if you don’t care on the other. When in doubt, buy a black suit and wear it with mix and match tops while you spend time learning what colors and styles are flattering, professional and appropriate to your work place. The old adage of dressing for the job you want not the job you have is enduringly true. This is particularly challenging in the area of business casual—always wear a jacket. The appearance you present is directly proportional to the impression you make about self confidence. Your future clients will be paying money for your advice; you will need to look as if you are worth it.
–A professional speaking voice and the ability to present well and confidently is THE most important skill you can develop. Someone with little to say who says it well will get farther than a brilliant person who can’t professionally articulate their ideas. This includes eliminating “like” and other trendy jargon from your professional vocabulary and refraining from letting your voice go up at the end of each sentence, which makes you appear indecisive. Young women, in particular, need to cultivate the lower end of their register and learn how to communicate without sounding either deferential or whiny. We all need to work on eliminating the verbal pause of “ah” when we can just let a moment of silence occur as a natural break between points. Take every opportunity to engage in any speaker training or coaching that is available to you. See yourself on camera. Study the voice patterns of those you admire.
–Understand that in the workplace it’s not about YOU, it’s about the value you offer and it will be up to you to make that apparent. As an entry level professional it’s important that you don’t just do what you’re told–you should be volunteering for additional projects, taking each assignment above and beyond, engaged in each meeting whether you have a role or not. For example, offer to take notes in a meeting and then share them with other participants, looking for opportunities where you can offer a point of view, an additional idea. When extra assignments aren’t available look for a problem and offer a thoughtful, viable solution. Understand that even once you’re hired you are like a horse in a maiden race–everything looks good on paper but there is no track record. It’s up to you to rise to the top. Don’t wait to be discovered. The successful young professional is the one that is noticed for hard work, enthusiasm, positive attitude, ability to anticipate, team playing, going the extra mile. That’s the person who will given opportunities.