I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: for most people, your career is your biggest asset. The better you perform at work, the more value you add, the more income you will receive.
Not only is performance important, but your attitude and appearance play a role in your success as well. All of these factors are small parts to the bigger picture of who you are and how you are perceived.
I know what you’re thinking: “Who cares how I’m perceived? I want to be who I am.”
That’s all well and good, but we live in a very judgmental society. If you don’t want to change the way people perceive you, then you won’t advance your career to any great degree.
I’m not proposing you change who you are, but rather change the way others see your professional performance.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself in order to assess how you are perceived:
Are you on time?
People notice who comes in early and who comes in late. They also notice who leaves early and who stays late. In my opinion, this has no effect on performance. If you’re getting the job done, that should be enough. However, we live in a culture that rewards time, not necessarily performance. I see this changing with more flexible work schedules, but until your company adopts a policy, it is best to at least be on time and leave on a reasonable hour.
Do you work evenings and weekends?
Like I said, employers reward personal time, not always performance. I’ve scheduled emails to go out late at night and on the weekends. Though I’m not actually working when the emails are sent, there is a perception that I am.
Do you complain about work?
This is one of the worst things you can do on the job. If you are seen as someone who is always down, sees the glass as half empty, and can always find something to complain about, not only will people not want to associate with you, but management will not want to promote you.
Do you associate with naysayers?
Who you befriend in the office is a big deal. People notice who you talk to. They know your alliances. If you associate with a group of people who are seen as slackers, low performers, or complainers, you’ll be seen in the same light. Birds of a feather flock together.
Do you eat alone in your office?
I like eating alone in my office. It’s my time that I can decompress and enjoy a meal without being interrupted. However, doing this too often can be seen as anti-social. Every once in awhile, I’ll make my way down to the cafeteria or schedule a one-on-one lunch with a friend. If you’re not seen as a “team-player,” you’re not promotable.
Do you dress appropriately?
At a minimum, come in with an ironed shirt and slacks. If you’re a man wearing polo shirts and faded khaki’s every day, you will be perceived as not ready for a leadership position.
The economy is still fragile and competition is fierce. You need to do everything you can to be noticed in the workplace, which means paying attention to how others, especially those in management positions, perceive you.