How to Improve your Professional Image to Climb the Corporate Ladder


Have you given thought to your professional image lately?

Are you winning friends and influencing people? (the best selling book has sold 15 million copies for a reason)

Here are some important tips to help you shape your image at work and ascend the corporate ladder.

This article was written by a Financial Horse Contributor. 

1. Look the part 

Dressing the part can help improve your professional image.

Research has shown that people make snap judgments based on your appearance in miliseconds. 

Creating a professional image is important in many industries. 

Additionally, looking confident helps you to be more confident. 

If you look good, you feel good. 

On the other hand, with more casual workplaces or WFH becoming the norm, it is also common to have a dressed-down appearance.

Nevertheless, this still means you should take pride in your appearance. 

Maintaining good hygiene practices, and conveying confident body language will enhance your work image. 

Proper posture and eye contact also goes a long way in establishing trust and facilitating communication. 

2. Sponsor / Mentor 

Having a work sponsor and mentor will facilitate your climb of the corporate ladder. 

A work mentor guides you, and helps you navigate work challenges.

A work sponsor advocates for you, bringing up your profile and connecting you to more opportunities. 

A McKinsey study found that having a sponsor can increase the likelihood of getting a promotion by 60%.

How do you cultivate such relationships?

Look within your own company, join professional organizations, or even cold email people you admire in your industry.

With the internet, it is also easier than ever to reach out to people. 

An important caveat. 

The cornerstone of all networking is to provide value.

quid pro quo is the best way to establish a valuable connection. 

Be curious, be helpful, and be genuine.

Volunteer in your industry, go above and beyond within your company, and you’ll find that it is very easy to make connections. 

It is not about collecting contacts, but about building meaningful relationships.

The more you invest in your network, the more your network will invest in you. 

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3. Giver vs. Taker

As part of your professional image, are you a giver or a taker? 

Organizational psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant notes in his bestselling book, “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” lays out three key reciprocation styles in the workplace:

  1. Takers see the world as a hypercompetitive rat race. Since they assume that no one else will look out for them, they place their own interests first and last. They may choose to help others strategically, but only when the benefit seems to exceed the cost.
  2. Matchers operate tit for tat. When people do them a favor, they repay in a capacity that is no more, no less. And when they help someone, they expect the same in return.
  3. Givers focus on others more than on themselves. They pay close attention to what people need from them, whether it’s time or ideas or mentorship. A rarity in the workplace, according to Grant, their style is more typical of the way we treat family and friends.

In any given field, you’ll find givers near the top of their career ladder.

Grant notes that these high-performer givers are strategic in the choices they make and the limits they set. 

“Successful givers are every bit as ambitious as takers and matchers. They simply have a different way of pursuing their goals.”

4. Culture fit vs. Culture add

To thrive in any organization, culture fit is key.

Swimming with the tide vs. Swimming upstream

Why go against the tide and struggle, when you can go with the flow?

If you believe in the company’s mission, and you are aligned with your bosses and colleagues, you’ll find everything goes smoothly for you in your career progression.

Another way of thinking is also beginning to emerge. 

Instead of culture fit, what about culture add?

Culture Fit is the likelihood that someone will reflect and be able to adapt to the core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that make up your organization.

Culture Add is the likelihood that someone will bring a set of diverse opinions, experiences, and skills which enhances the overall company culture.

Some companies are also realizing the value of hiring ‘culture adds’, to bring onboard a diverse mix of views and strategies for the company.

In any case, whether you are a culture fit or culture add, voicing your opinions in a tactful way is important. 

This demonstrates that you are a team player who is willing with work with others to achieve the company’s goals. 

5. Be responsible 

Being seen as a responsible person will go a long way in any career.

If your image is that of a responsible person, you will naturally get more opportunities to lead and succeed.

Every organization values a responsible member of the team.

6. Reputation

Finally a vital component of your work image is your reputation.

It is time to cut out toxic habits such as gossiping or undermining others.

Let your work shine for itself. 

If you are a toxic colleague, it is only a matter of time before you find yourself alienated.

While manipulative and selfish behaviour can get you ahead some times (think about people who like to take credit or sabotage others), these are not sustainable strategies. 

In times of trouble, you’ll find that nobody is willing to lend a helping hand.

And more importantly, in the long-run, you always lose out.

Bosses may close a blind eye in the short-term, but they know.

Instead, play the long-game.

Act, do and think in a way that benefits your reputation, and you’ll find yourself at the top of the food chain in no time. 

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