Category Archives: non verbal communication

Makeup: A career issue for both men and women!

How makeup is impacting the workplace
I was facilitating a meeting in Paris last week and one delegate asked about women, makeup and career advancement. There wasn’t time to go into it in detail – but we were obviously in France where the grooming benchmark is particularly high. As I was still recovering from surgery and leading the meeting on one crutch (not the height of chic) and struggling to stay on my high heels, I possibly may not have been a convincing fashionista. In fact had I not been wearing makeup, combined with my crutch, I suspect para medics might have been put on alert.

Visual world
There is much research to suggest that basic looks, appearance and grooming lead to more rapid promotions and higher salaries. We live in a visual world where appearances matter. However, just to focus on one tiny aspect of the lookism and appearance issue, is the application of makeup that critical to career success? There is strong empirical evidence to suggest there is a connection for women.


Make up = making an effort
In fact,a recent survey, commissioned by The Aziz Corporation, reveals new information about appearance in the workplace. A survey reported in The Times also suggests that 64 per cent of directors considered women who wore make-up look more professional and 18 per cent of directors said that women who do not wear make-up “look like they can’t be bothered to make an effort”. As a career coach I would advise any woman to focus on overall professional grooming and that would include sector appropriate make-up. In a general professional sense all women are advised to wear light make up. A study published in the International Journal of Cosmetics Science in 2006 on Caucasian women has found that people judge women wearing cosmetics as higher earners with more prestigious jobs

Claire Soper an Image Consultant based in Brussels told me ” Without doubt make-up is part of your professional dress and is as important as your outfit. It must be appropriate and well applied and if you wear none, you look under dressed. A well-groomed look sends a positive message about who you, your capabilities and potential. Think about how you are perceived if you wear none? Believe it or not you could be sending signals that you are disorganized, uninterested and unable to cope and you need to be aware of this. We can control the way we look but not how people perceive us and our professional dress, the impact our image makes has a massive impact on our chances of promotion and career advancement. Know that internal career progression is based 50% on image!”

According to the Mail Online, the average British woman spends £9000 in a lifetime on makeup. Given that women are the greatest global consumer group, I’m assuming the minute they start feeling OK with their faces, bodies and general appearances whole industry sectors would simply disappear. It would seem that there are certain economic imperatives for us all to feel insecure about our appearance and therefore spend huge sums striving for improvement.

However in light of Josef Ackmerman’s CEO of Deutsche Bank’s suggestion that women would  “add colour to the boardroom“, a major faux pas, how and where do we we start overturning traditional stereotypes? Silvana Koch-Mehrin, Member of the European Party retorted pretty promptly “If Mr Ackermann wants more color in the management board, he should hang pictures on the wall.”

Claire adds “If you look capable, motivated and interested you stand a better chance of getting the promotion. It’s about releasing your potential. Many people’s careers are blocked simply because of the way they dress and women in particular, can gain authority and credibility by wearing make-up so they are perceived as somebody worth listening to.

The male view
Further research from The Aziz Corporation would indicate that men are also changing their perceptions about personal grooming. According to a study a carried out by Opinion Research, cited in the Mail Online – there is a sharp rise in male attention to makeup, with 20% admitting to wearing it to work.

William, a Senior Partner in an international law firm told me ” we live in such a “lookist” society that of course I use men’s grooming products. Men have to make sure their grooming assistance is not obvious. Women are actually lucky in this area because they can hide and enhance certain aspects of their appearance with makeup. At one time men as they got older, were deemed distinguished and women were simply “older”. Now it’s changing. If a man obviously wore make-up, it would probably be professional suicide. Most of the well-groomed women I know in their 50s, look way better than their male counterparts. An increasingly number of men in my circle have had cosmetic surgery to maintain a more youthful appearance, because they see it as a professional advantage .” Nip/tucking does indeed seem a bit drastic, when a quick dab of YSL Touche Eclat might do the trick. Guys – here’s how!

So I wondered, thinking that through, is it really better to be in a lower earning junior position, looking younger, wearing full make-up , than being a senior partner, on a great salary, looking his age? “That’s the irony” said Tom ” women are penalised for not wearing make-up and men would be penalised for doing so

So is it time to let go of our stereotypes and if women want to go to work without their “faces” and men want to head for the cosmetic counter, or will light makeup eventually be recommended for both sexes to enhance career prospects? Should any of it make a difference to the way we’re perceived in the workplace?

What do you think?

Living in the shadow of your own resume

Are you what it says on the tin?

I received a CV from a candidate ( let’s call him John). My eyes lit up. A complex search had just become much easier. His CV was powerful, positive, succinct. But unhappily John was not. His responses ranged from arrogant and overbearing to hesitant, unclear and evasive. If his resume had not been on my screen I would have had no idea what John did. Who was this person?

Many candidates suffer from  what I call Resume Shadow Syndrome. This is when a CV is stronger than the candidate’s personal presentation of themselves, whether in person or on the phone. They therefore live in the shadow of their own resume. This means that they will be called for interviews or contacted by telephone, but will either come unravelled at the first screening stage, or the face to face interview. Basically for different reasons, they don’t own their message.

No quick fixes
They believe that having a strong CV is the magic carpet solution to career change, where they can float over the whole process, preferably at speed. In fact constructing a strong resume is probably only the 3rd or even 4th step in a building block process to success and by leap frogging all the basics they crash and burn. It’s like thinking you can tackle black ski runs because you have bought top class equipment and look good. Not happening. Or finding out from the small print that the “top quality fresh ” product is full of dubious additives and unpronounceable, 10 syllable chemicals.

Why is this so important?
Having a powerful CV is only part of the job search process and although it will open doors, it won’t get you the job! It’s only part of communicating your message (brand) so that people hear you! If you are not connected to your own message and you are not what it says on the tin, then you’re in trouble.

What can go wrong?

No self insight: The CV has been prepared with professional help but with insufficient time on core “discovery” work and follow-up. You have to do basic discovery work and spend some time reflecting on your achievements and skills. If candidates don’t really know themselves, how can they expect other people, who don’t know them at all, to glean any understanding of them.

Poor delivery : The message might look good on paper but it has not been converted into an elevator pitch or soundbites. Not enough practise! Laziness, ignorance or arrogance – or a combination of all three

Poor first impression. Body language, general appearance and demeanour are incorrect or inappropriate.

Insufficient preparation. No research is carried out on the companies and individuals involved in the process. Most companies make it easy for you to learn about them on their website and LinkedIn. Use Google! Even if it’s not an interview, but just a networking session or an informal chat, make sure that you know who will be involved in the process and practise your elevator speech.

Inferior content : Be concise, precise and relevant in your delivery with crisp presentation to avoid detailed questioning, because your point is fuzzy. See point on preparation, research and practise. Understanding your core mission statement and practising the delivery of your message , over and over again if necessary, is key here. Don’t expect it to be alright on the day. Even confident people get nervous and forget things. Be direct and professional in terms of language and topics covered. Interviewers don’t want to know about your kids sports games – unless you are asked.

Fuzzy : Be honest and don’t exaggerate or evade. Skilled interviewers can detect spin or lies instantly and will pick at it until the truth is out. You want to avoid the ” Let’s go back to…” unless it’s a major achievement and even then you should have sold that thoroughly. Fuzziness creates doubts. If there are real doubts – you will be cut.

Negativity : Be positive – don’t run your ex company or colleagues down. It’s a small world and you never know who knows whom. If you do that about one company you could well do it for the hiring manager and organisation.

Anyone who thinks because they have one strong document they can short-circuit running the hard yards can be in for a serious wake up call. You have to be who you say you are on the tin!

Just make sure you are a brand and not a white label!

10 ways women supposedly sabotage their careers!

Citibank’s career advice for women! ( updated September 15th 2010)

My good friend Silvana Delatte sent me this link from Business Insider about a laminated sheet supposedly issued by the HR department of Citibank on how women sabotage their careers. If this is not a spoof (which I suspect it might be) then it makes interesting, if not incredible (as in unbelievable) reading.

Nowhere does it mention doing a bad job, so perhaps good performance isn’t necessary to advance a career in Citibank! This list would be infinitely less risible if the almost all male board had not been part of a group of testosterone driven mis- managers which brought global economies grinding to a halt. The subsequent government bail out was at great cost to the tax payer and impacted the lives of millions. Perhaps some of that money could be used to invest in constructive gender based management training, clearly sorely needed. I can make any number of excellent recommendations, so please contact me Citibank!

So let’s look at this list and analyse it!

  •  Women tend to speak softly – you are not heard. Anyone speaking softly isn’t heard, especially in the company of people who talk too much and don’t listen! Good managers listen! Being heard is also not about the volume of the voice but the pitch. Women could be advised to reduce the pitch of their voices by half a semi-tone.
  •  Women groom in public – it emphasizes your femininity, de-emphasizes your capability: Grooming in public is a no no – for anyone. That’s why companies have bathrooms!
  • Women sit demurely – the power position when seated at a table is forearms resting on a table and resting forward. Good posture in business meetings accompanied by positive body language and facial expressions with head tilted to one side, indicating engagement is a given. Nowhere, even in AskMen, have I seen any suggestions that leaning forward and appearing aggressive is a bonus.
  • Speak last in meetings – early speakers are seen as more assertive and knowledgeable than late speakers. Thinking before speaking and measured contribution is never to be under estimated. This is probably because the people who are making this judgement are poor listeners and have the attention span of pre-schoolers.
  • Women ask permission – children are taught to ask permission. Men don’t ask permission, they inform. I actually agree with this one. However polite deference is not to be confused with approval seeking and definitely preferable to arrogant bamboozling.
  •  Apologize – women apologize for the smallest error which erodes your self-confidence. Men tend to move into problem solving mode. I agree with this one too. But having said that for many the word “sorry” is missing from their vocabulary. Problem solving is not the same as admitting a mistake and dealing with it. Problem solving can be aka covering up. and /or reactive management.
  •  Women tend to smile inappropriately when delivering a message, therefore you are not getting taken seriously Well I did some quick research on this little gem and would be interested to see the metrics on that. Women do smile more than men, mainly to soften situations that is true. Smiling would only be inappropriate when delivering extremely bad news. I seriously doubt if a woman would do that unless she really disliked the person. Then she might well do.
  •  Play fair – women tend to be more naive. A women might assume the rules have to be obeyed whereas a man will figure out a way to stretch the rules and not be punished. So is the message here ladies, playing dirty is fine? May I suggest that stretching the rules was what got Citibank into its little pickle. There is surely no substitute for professional integrity. Besides the activities of the mascara mafia have been well documented. Women can and do play dirty, but target mainly other women.
  •  Being invisible – women tend to operate behind the scenes and end up handing credit over to the competitor. This is a fair point – women have to stop waiting for recognition and step up. But then whoever is stealing their thunder should have a little more professional integrity (see above). Good managers recognise and reward.
  • Offer a limp handshake – one good pump and a concise greeting combined with solid eye contact will do the trick. Agree with this too except this isn’t an arm wrestling contest. I would suggest that firm contact would be infinitely preferable to “one good pump” which implies a potential dislocated shoulder.

So ladies, what advice would you give the gentlemen of Citibank?

Apart from ” Do try not to bankrupt anyone today, darling.”

Written with a smile! Please see also follow up post “Trapped! Women and the Smiling Myth

September 15th 2010 -Update! An interesting post came across my screen today, which now makes some sense of the aforementioned problem-causing laminated sheet issued by Citibank. It isn’t a spoof , although it seemed that way. I was right to apply some cynicism.

Writing for The Thin Pink Line Blog, Lois Frankel says that this sheet has taken points from her book ” Nice girls don’t get the corner office ” completely out of context  and she tries to set the record straight in her post .

I did read the book some time ago and will have to revisit it. Condensed to bumper-sticker style homilies these points seem dated and Lois was right, taken at face value they don’t make a lot of sense, so they need to be evaluated in context, which I will certainly do. On her own admission the title including the term “nice” was forced upon her by her publisher. Some of the most successful people ( corner office holders) I know have been simply all around “nice” ( male and female).

That sheet certainly aroused a good discussion!

Interviews and Non – Verbal Communication

Body language

Body language

Your lips may not be moving and you haven’t said a word, but you’re actually sending a message in all sorts of other ways without even realising it. You just have to make sure it’s the right one.

So you‘ve been called for an interview for a great job. Your amazing CV has missed the reject pile, you’ve survived a telephone screening and now you think all you have to do is knock ‘em dead with your perfectly honed interview pitch. Right? No…. sorry… wrong.

Remember that first impressions are created within the first 10 seconds to give a lasting impression. 55% of a person’s perception of you is based on the way you look, the rest is split between how you say what you‘re saying, and finally, after all that, what you actually say. I know.. tough! So even assuming you’re suited and booted in absolutely the right way, you’re completely prepared but will that be enough? No – afraid not. Non verbal communication is paramount. The way you look is significant , which incorporates, not just what you wear, but your posture, body language and general demeanour. These reveal more about you to the interviewer, than you will ever know. You want to show that you are calm, confident and professional, without being arrogant. Then you tell them how good you are.

So what to think of ?

  •  Smile – Remember we all smile in the same language. It’s the classic ice breaker.
  •  Handshake – should be firm – but not bone breaking. Ladies, this is really important. No limp finger tip tickling.
  •  Eye contact – is paramount -without looking crazed. It shows people you are engaged and interested. Erratic eye contact is associated with shiftiness and glazed eyes indicates lack of interest.
  •  Introduce yourself – OK, I know this is verbal, but it is too closely related to first impressions to be excluded. This is particularly important if your name has a difficult pronunciation, or the interviewer has a different first language to your own. I thought I had a sure fire way around any misunderstanding by saying ” I’m sorry – how do you pronounce your name?” The guy didn’t miss a beat and replied “Mike “. Didn’t do that again. If you’ve misheard – just apologise and ask them to say their name again.
  •  Repeat – the interviewers names a few times in the early part of your conversation ( without sounding robotic) more verbal communication – but for the same reason. This is a trick our US friends employ perfectly and one we Europeans could well emulate.
  •  Posture – Sit or stand straight if you want to be seen as alert and enthusiastic. When you slump in your chair, perch on a desk or lean against a wall, you look tired and bored. No one wants to recruit someone who looks lethargic and lacking in energy
  • Body – The angle of your body gives an indication to others about what’s going through your mind. Leaning in shows interest, leaning or turning away the complete opposite. That says “I’ve had enough” Adding a nod of your head is another way to affirm that you are listening
  •  Head – Keeping your head straight, will make you appear self-assured and authoritative. People will take you seriously. Tilt your head to one side if you want to come across as friendly and open.
  •  Arms – crossed or folded over your chest suggests a lack of openness and can imply that you have no interest in the speaker or what they are saying. This position can also say, “I don’t agree with you”. You don’t want to appear cold – I don’t mean temperature here. Too much movement might be seen as erratic or immature. The best place for your arms is by your side. You will look confident and relaxed. If this is hard for you, do what you always do when you want to get better at something – practice. After a while, it will feel natural.
  •  Hands – In the business world, particularly when you deal with people from other cultures, your hands need to be seen. Make sure your fists aren’t closed – it suggests aggression. When you speak –don’t point your index finger at anyone. That is also an aggressive move. Having your hands anywhere above the neck, playing with your hair or rubbing your face, can be perceived as unprofessional.
  •  Legs – A lot of movement can indicate nervousness.The preferred positions for the polished professional are feet flat on the floor or legs crossed at the ankles. The least professional and most offensive position is resting one leg or ankle on top of your other knee. It looks arrogant. That’s a guy thing (normally).
  •  Personal Space -there are lots of cultural differences regarding personal space. Standing too close or “in someone’s face” will mark you as pushy or even aggressive. Positioning yourself too far away will make you seem remote. Neither is what you want, so find the happy medium. Most importantly, do what makes the other person feel comfortable. That shows empathy.
  •  Listen well -Active listening is a form of non verbal communication.It is a real skill and demonstrates engagement and empathy. Paraphrase and ask for clarification of any points, to make sure you have fully understood. Modify your body language to indicate you are fully engaged – leaning in slightly, making eye contact and nodding affirmation.
  • Smell – if you’re a smoker do try not to smoke any time before your interview. The smell lingers and some people, especially today, find it offensive. I’m personally relaxed about perfume/aftershave – but others aren’t, so once again err on the side of caution.

Now you can make your elevator speech!