Who says we NEVER judge a book by its COVER?

Saturday September 8, 2012

Image DOES matter


SUSAN Boyle stepped onto the stage of Britain’s Got Talent in a pretty but dull coloured frock that did nothing for her image. Her hair was rather dishevelled in colour and shape, and she struggled to articulate herself, then swung her hips defiantly, insisting “and that’s just one side of me!”

The audience cringed and there was electricity in the air: it was judgement time. Simon Cowell’s face said it all.

Here was a lady who could easily blend into a crowd, but aspired to be like multi-award winning singer Elaine Paige. Really? But, Boyle went on to prove everyone wrong, putting to shame people’s common tendency to judge a person’s ability by her or his appearance.

But, does that mean that image doesn’t matter and “it’s what’s on the inside that count?”

First impressions

Well done to Boyle for wooing the crowd over, but her case demonstrated a point. First impressions are indeed powerful, and they can only be made once. Image is the general impression that we give to the public, and the image we project in the first 20-30 seconds will be etched into people’s minds. It forms the default perception of us, unless a subsequent compelling impression can replace it. Boyle’s case is a resounding success story. Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” was so flawless that it managed to vanquish all negative notions the public formed of her in the first moments; the audience was simply in awe.

However, in the working world we don’t always have the luxury of time (nor mercy) to start off on the wrong footing, then rely on something to “save and redeem” us later. A meeting with a prospective client could only last 10 minutes. Every moment should be used to project an image of credibility and to build trust. Job seekers may have great things to say in an interview, but they must also say it well. When a recruiter has to choose between two people with the same skillset, but one projects a more polished image than the other, the choice is easy.

Personal branding

The aim is this: our image should project our values, attributes and abilities from the get go, and this requires care and attention. It’s not about being pedantic, but strategic. According to research at Emory University in Atlanta, image can make or break careers. That promotion is waiting not just for someone who can do the job, but someone who also look the part.

Naturally it includes dressing and grooming. Someone involved in corporate negotiations for instance may want to resort to a well-cut suit and smart grooming to project power. Business titan and Chairman of Indian multinational conglomerate Tata Group Sir Ratan Tata does this well. Always slickly suited up, British GQ ranked the charismatic leader one of the top dressed businessmen of 2012. Margaret Thatcher, longest serving and only female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, carried through her assertive leadership in her appearance. Perfectly waved hair, solid coloured suits and elegant accessories, she projected resoluteness and confidence. Of course, dressing must be appropriate for the circumstances too. Jeff Staple, urban design icon and Creative Director of Staple Design, is in a collared long sleeved shirt mostly. Other times, he is in a T-shirt, sweater or hoodie. For the sphere of work he is in, it works.

But as important as dressing is, so is how one communicates non-verbally. UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian reminds us that 55% of messages received and processed by our brain are based on body language. If I want to appear friendly, there are different things to consider. How open are my shoulders? Do I lunge too forward when I speak? Where are my knees pointing? Even a handshake says a lot about someone.

Credibility & Harmony

An image that is consistent with one’s values and abilities also projects credibility. If I say I am meticulous but come to work in an creased shirt, the contradiction between my words and image creates confusion and distrust. There is also an unconscious relief in observing an internal-external harmony. Susan Boyle wasn’t left to her “own devices” after her appearance on Britain’s Got Talent. After wowing the world with her voice, she received an image makeover. Interestingly enough, the public embraced her new appearance, one that is as polished as her voice.


At the end of the day, it is about believing that you have something great to say, then positioning your image to effectively communicate to the target audience . It’s not about creating an artificial image, but bearing in mind that people’s perception of you has crucial connections as to how much they would believe in what you say. We say “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but the cover does determine whether we bother opening the book or not in the first place!

Lily Cheah and the Image Matters team will be exploring all image related matters, including body language, dressing and grooming, in the hope of helping you be more effective in your interactions with others.

Source: The Star

Posted by Alex Wong CPA Australia Melbourne University, Australia

In Tune specialises in finance and accounting outsourcing, human resource (HR) outsourcing to SME business owners;that traditionally cannot afford professional services which they now can at a fraction of the cost less the headache; so that they have more time to focus on the business operations that matters to them. Why hire an executive when you can now get at least one qualified professional with an executive at less than an executive pay.

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