Category Archives: Power dressing

10 Barriers to successful promotion

careerI see many people in transition who struggle to advance in their careers  internally within their own organisations, in almost the same way as if they were involved in an external job search.

Today,  many companies have very rigorous internal promotion processes which can be as daunting as looking for a position outside a current organisation.

However,  there are many common elements and they require the same structured approach to achieve success. Just like an external  job search,  the process can take up to a year, further complicated by competition against colleagues,   some of whom may have become friends. Some companies even go to the expense of conducting external executive searches to benchmark the quality of their internal talent pipeline.

Over the years I’ve noticed what has become an all too familiar pattern with ten barriers to success:

  1. Lack of expertise in self-promotion:  many are unused to dealing with this type of process and are simply confused. This is compounded by a refusal to ask for help. Many in established positions have no idea how neutral input can make a difference to the outcome. Very often organisations will fund transition coaching especially at a senior level. Ask, and if they say “no”,  don’t hesitate invest in yourself.
  2. Lack of self-awareness: most people make very little time to think about themselves – their skills, goals, achievements, vision and passions. Those who are still employed are equally as guilty as  job seekers of this, perhaps more so because they know the organisation and the players.  They think they can ” wing it ” on the day.  A thorough inventory of achievements and skills should always be made as part of any on going career strategy. Internal candidates quite frequently have less interview exposure than externals so their self presentation skills can be more rusty.
  3. Stuck in “yes / but” :  Many want to make a change and explore new methodologies but get stuck in self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviours. They are unable to make that paradigm shift to get there.  As Einstein pointed out “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different  results.”
  4. Avoidance strategies:  transitioning professionally takes a lot of work and many are not prepared to run the hard yards.  They get caught up in the cyber black  hole of “busyness” , unproductive work on computers of all sizes,  convincing themselves they are working effectively, when they are clearly not.  Business plans have to be prepared, strategic value to market statements must be created, plus whatever other activities organisations demands  (personality and psychological testing for example.)  All of this is time-consuming.
  5. Low self-esteem and or anxiety:  these two psychological states are frequent bed fellows which feed on each other to produce the  “busyness” above. Fear of failure maybe at the root of these dangerous emotions or perhaps there have been some missed  or failed opportunities in the past. Falling into the low self-esteem cycle undermines productivity and ultimately success. Find a coach, a mentor or a neutral friend or colleague to support you.
  6. Poor time management: whether in employment or on a job search a structured approach to time management is critical. Goals should be set, plans made and implemented and time planned.
  7. Failure to set goals: internal candidates are well-known to their management which has  both negatives and positives. It’s not enough to pitch up, suited and booted to give a brilliantly polished performance on the day. Strategic preparation over an extended period is critical, including professional image management. If your appearance look like a sack of spanners most days in the office,  a one day transformation for the interview will not be enough.
  8.  Lack of both mentors and sponsors: for the necessary support. Implement some visibility raising strategies to  raise your profile within your company. It is really easy to neglect an internal network. Create some strategic alliances.
  9. Failure to evaluate the competition.  Is your manager sponsoring you? If so, is he/she also sponsoring others for the position? Find out what you need to do to get full and unqualified support. Be aware of who the other candidates might be and their relative strengths and weaknesses.
  10. No Plan B: in very  competitive internal processes which might have long-term career impact,  as part of the planning process ask yourself what you want to do if you are not successful.   Having a “Plan B” is key – will you stay on and try again? Does this mean your career will have stalled? It’s important to understand what your next steps will be and create a plan in advance. Knowing that a potential key resource may leave an organisation can be a factor.  Make sure your external network is in place too,  as your ” just in case” safety net.

So whether an external or internal candidate,  the career transition process carries many common elements! What would you add?

Good luck!

Message to self: why we need business dress codes

At the risk of coming over as a Jurassic fossil,  I’m not a fan of business dressing down, even on  Fridays,  let alone Monday to Thursday.  And before the hoodie brigade and Facebook/Google/MySpace crew come at me with Smart phones  blazing, I’ll tell you why!

Yes of course the words judging, books and covers come to mind. I know that what we’re wearing should have no impact on the quality of output, performance or decisions taken. I equally know it’s important to feel comfortable in an office or business situation.  Clearly coal miners and steel workers cannot work in a jacket and tie and pole dancers, nurses and aerobics teachers can’t wear straight skirts and business suits. Some clothing is not occupation appropriate that is obvious.  Nor am I in favour of fashion policing and suppressing freedom of expression.

It isn’t either totally about general business impressions.  At a recent meeting in London I walked to the conference room through an office which seemed to be populated by pizza delivery personnel who had misplaced both their mopeds and their pizzas. Even if the client meeting is in a side office,  many have glass walls and visitors generally have to pass through common areas. People do note the state of the offices, as well as the people working in them. This office did not inspire confidence and part of that message came from the way the personnel were dressed. It looked sloppy.

The fact is that grooming does make a difference. It sends out an important message to all around about us as individuals, as well as the organisations we work with and for.  More importantly it’s also a signal about how we feel about ourselves and our jobs.

Message to self
Last week I had an early evening coaching session with a client. I thought she had come from the gym. In fact she had come from the office.   She was struggling to assert herself in her business environment and  her late nights in the office and early morning starts had morphed  into one sleep deprived 80 hour week blur. Her personal life had all but vanished.  She  had also stopped wearing make-up and it seemed that she had possibly lost her hair brush.  Her garments of choice were more appropriate for a rock festival than the offices of a multi-national.  She claimed that everyone in her company adopts this casual approach and she is not one bit out-of-place. Not unsurprisingly there seems to be  morale and motivation issues in that organisation as it fights a deepening recession.

But effectively she has no life outside this 15/24 work day and as her job is a daily assault course, that is how she dresses.  At some level that is how she perceives her daily routine and her role in it.

Her goal was to revert to re-creating a lost professional identity, one that she could separate from her personal life,  so that in some small way she has one.   By simply getting up in the morning and putting on her professional face and uniform and taking it off every night and putting it in the laundry basket when she gets home,  she has created  a critical psychological  and physical distinction and barrier.

We are all our greatest assets. It’s important to care, believe and invest in ourselves.  Taking pride in our appearance reflects on us professionally. It’s also a cut off point and a visual and physical boundary between our work personas and the rest of our lives. We  all need that vital separation in a world where  our professional and personal selves can potentially slide into one undifferentiated continuum.

A business dress code is one way of doing that.

What do you think?

Women and work: Elevator pitch or elevated heels?

There is a reason they are called killer heels or stilettos!


A new spin on best foot forward . Where do you stand on high heels?

Women are the recipients of dozens of conflicting mixed messages every day, but none is more most confusing and troublesome than the question of those power high heels in the workplace. Are they the hallmark of a successful empowered business woman, or the badge of a person with more vanity than  sense?   Do they make us as physically vulnerable as the foot binding traditions in China,  only outlawed in the early 20th century, or create a career spring-board,  literally raising our visibility?

Men wore high heels throughout history until the 16th century and then (not unsurprisingly) they  moved away from that fashion statement,  as the trend became associated with sentimentality and a lack of education.  Elizabeth Semmelhack, author of  The Heights of Fashion: A History of the Elevated Shoe,  suggests that high heels are ” an irrational form of footwear,” while Kate Spicer of The Times claims that women buy shoes for their “potency” not their comfort. There is a reason they are called killer heels or stilettos!

In researching this article I have come across as much conflict as one might find at a Tea Party debate. Here are but a few arguments:

  •  A must have accessory.  Part of a career propelling, confidence  boosting,  power dressing wardrobe. Without these you are officially the office frump.  Some women are even having surgery  in order to wear these shoes,  such is their belief  in their value. Or is that possibly vanity or even stupidity? So do we replace our elevator pitch with elevated heels? Will slipping on our Jimmy Choos,  Louboutins or Manolo Blahnik’s make a difference?    Lea Goldman of Marie Claire  tells us what we already know:  offices are competitive places, quite often run by men.  Any boost women can get,  she maintains, is an advantage to bring women closer to men’s eye level. This veiw is supported by Tamara Mellon , Co-Founder of Jimmy Choo, but then she would wouldn’t she?
  • Bad for health. Should carry a government warning!   High heels result in bunions, corns, callouses, shortening of the Achilles tendon, ankle fractures,  nerve damage, and arthritis
  •  Good for health : strengthens core abdominal and pelvic muscles simultaneously. Reduces health risks: Professor Margaret Thorogood, from the Medical School at Warwick University, said . ” It is very unlikely  that the prolonged wearing of high heels presents a risk factor
  • Sexualising and demeaning, trading on sex appeal rather than innate abilities and skill set.  Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey,  believes that sky-high heels are just too sexy for most workplaces.  “High heels thrust out the buttocks and arch the back into a natural mammalian courting — actually, copulatory — pose called ‘lordosis, Rats do it, sheep do it … lions do it, dogs do it. … It is a naturally sexy posture that men immediately see as sexual readiness
  • Shows women as fashion slaves:  Kristen Schaal  tweeted that high heels are the” modern-day corset.

I was early for a meeting in Central London recently. I sat in the reception of a smart office building and watched hundreds of women arriving for work. Many were wearing trainers and sensible flat shoes with their city suits.  30 minutes later I saw the same women in the hallways, most striding purposefully down the 10 metre corridors, in their power business heels.  Fine today –  but at what cost tomorrow?

So where do you stand on the power heel? Can you really put your feet first and look after your career as well?