Leveraging Your Appearance for Tech Career Success

While hiring managers and stakeholders care about your technical skills and your ability to deliver high-quality work, the truth is that the way you look, dress and carry yourself can impact your ability to get hired, get promoted and make more money.

To be clear, you don’t need to look like a Hollywood celebrity to have a successful career. Case in point, a study by Jaclyn Wong of the University of Chicago and Andrew Penner of the University of California at Irvine found that attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of “average” attractiveness. However, that gap dramatically diminished when the two sociologists factored in grooming and how people presented themselves socially.

To make sure that your appearance is working for you, here are some easy ways to maximize your appearance and presence. 

When In Doubt, Dress Up

It doesn’t matter how much intellectual capital you have; a client won’t trust you to do the work if you look scruffy or wear rumpled clothes, explained Anna Wildermuth, an executive presence coach.

First impressions are highly influential and hard to overcome, she added: “Like it or not, clients and hiring managers make immediate judgements about your trustworthiness, competence and intelligence based on the way you look.”

As it turns out, there is truth behind the perception that looks matter. A study in the lending industry found that borrowers who appear more trustworthy not only have a better chance of having their loans funded; they actually have better credit scores and default less often.

“Even making small improvements in your appearance can have big consequences,” said Dr. Gordon Patzer, a professor of business administration at Roosevelt University in Chicago and author of: “Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined.”

Consider investing a little in your wardrobe, hairstyle or glasses. Dress one step up from the position you’re applying for when you interview, or when you make presentations. Again, you don’t need to be pretty or handsome; what’s important is having a well-put-together, polished presence. Not sure what to wear? Check out these business casual dress tips for men and women.

Use Positive Body Language and Facial Expressions

Fortunately, there are many dimensions of physical attractiveness that impact a person’s looks. For instance, smile prevails over other facial components, Patzer said. Best of all, smiling a little more throughout the day costs nothing.

“Besides clothing, you can also appear competent by making eye contact and using positive body language. It’s a package deal,” Wildermuth said.

In fact, social psychologist Amy Cuddy argues that positive body language or “power posing” not only conveys confidence, it can actually change feelings we have about our own status. And people who radiate a quiet sense of self-confidence attract others.

“Research has shown that positive people with high self-confidence and self-esteem are deemed to be more physically attractive than people who are negative and pessimistic,” Patzer said.

Look Taller and Slimmer

A study by Timothy Judge at the University of Florida found that taller people have higher self-esteem, which impacts performance and workplace success. In fact, for every extra inch of height, a tall worker can expect to earn an extra $789 per year. But is it possible to increase your height?

Wearing one solid color or pattern will make you seem taller (and slimmer), as will wearing long-sleeve shirts with the sleeves rolled up and clothing that creates the appearance of having a proportional, balanced shape.

Standing up straight and exercises that strengthen your core will make you stand taller (and improve your alertness and on-the-job performance, as well).

Slimming down a bit may also help you look taller as well as more capable and fit. Again, if you need motivation, look at the data. Studies show that men who work out regularly earn 6 percent more, while women earn 10 percent more than their peers. Plus, hitting the gym on a regular basis can improve your state of mind.

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