Climbing the career ladder is not just about what (or whom) you know, it's also about your image.

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In my last column, I discussed the importance of not taking casual Fridays too casually, especially during the summer months. The same holds true for your attire during the rest of the year; climbing the career ladder is not just about what (or whom) you know, it’s also about your image.

Early in my career I worked with someone who was incredibly bright, had several college degrees, had excellent work experience and was highly professional. But she never seemed able to get promoted. Puzzled, I had a discussion with our manager.

The manager’s comment? “Good grief, Lisa. I understand her business strengths, but there’s just no way I could put her in front of the management team or customers for a presentation because they wouldn’t take her seriously. Have you actually looked at her?”

So I took a good look. My co-worker mainly wore slacks and a blouse to work each day, her hair was long and straight (circa 1970s), and she rarely, if ever, wore makeup or jewelry. At the time, I was working in the medical-equipment industry for a Japanese firm. The industry, as well as the company, was very conservative. For trade shows, the company-recommended attire was a black, navy or brown suit. I wore a suit to work every day of the week.

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“Allie,” as I’ll call her, didn’t want to wear suits to work and she didn’t like having to take the time to apply makeup or style her hair. She wanted to wear comfortable clothes and had the attitude that no one could make her do things any differently — and she had apparently told this to our manager several times when he’d had discussions with her about her attire.

In Allie’s case, I watched as she sacrificed career promotions for comfort at work. It was a lesson I learned quickly: To hold a certain position — and secure the one after it — you not only need the knowledge, skills and experience, you also need to look the part.

It’s pretty simple: People do judge books by their covers. While you might be hard-working and knowledgeable, your attire could imply laziness or sloppiness that might overshadow your work ethic and achievements.

A polished, professional wardrobe that colleagues and customers respect will send the message to your boss (and others) that you should be taken seriously for new opportunities, promotions and pay raises.

Lisa Quast is the founder of Career Woman, Inc., and the author of the book Secrets of a Hiring Manager Turned Career Coach. Email her at