For me, one of the more frustrating things in life is that it is impossible to know what you mean to other people. You can’t know what they think of you, what they like about you, or anything related towards you. You can ask them, of course, but any info you get that relates somebody’s opinion about you to you will be at best second-hand information. You can’t get in their head and know what they think.
This is frustrating for me because I like learning things. Everything, really. I like learning what we don’t know, too. So it’s always annoying to me when I encounter something that is impossible to learn. That said, appearances are very important. Whether or not we notice it, people make judgments and actions around us based on what we look like and who we appear to be, both physically and socially.
This is one of the reasons I changed my sense of fashion. I used to wear a t-shirt and hoodie every day, and that served my purposes just find. Clothes were just something that was necessary. I barely even looked at the shirt I grabbed before putting it on in the morning.
Then, I started taking myself seriously as a writer. I didn’t like the casual shirt and hoodie combo that says “nerd” to everyone. I’m okay with people thinking of me as a nerd, sure, but I don’t want that to be anyone’s first impression of me. So I got a coat, and now I wear it with a collared shirt every day. As far as a typical “dress code” is concerned, I went from casual wear to what I would say is midway between business casual and business professional (if I wore a tie it’d be business professional).
So, I have no idea how my change in appearance has affected the people around me, both strangers and friends. I can guess that I look more professional to people, as that is the point, but on an individual level I can’t tell.
On a more social (rather than purely physical) level, I also want to present myself professionally. When I’m talking to other people, I always follow the same rule: Present yourself in a strong, positive, but not arrogant light. For example, I tell people I run a blog, that I’m a writer, and that I teach high school kids. The image these facts present to people won’t be quite accurate, because many will make assumptions that are not true. For example. when I say I teach high school kids, one may assume that I’m a literal high school teacher, which I am not. At best, I’m a “guest teacher”, but I don’t have a teaching credential or anything that would qualify me as a formal instructor. Am I lying to people? No. Am I intentionally misleading them? Sort of. I didn’t say any word that could be considered untrue, but the picture those facts paint is one of a more “professional and successful” me than the real me is. I don’t see this as a bad thing at all.
When you’re trying to get into virtually any field, presenting yourself as a better person than you really are serves multiple purposes. The first and most obvious one is that in order to get people to give you what you want, you need to convince them that you don’t need it. If quality assurance is what I’m looking for, I’m not going to buy from a little girl’s lemonade stand when I can buy it from a store. I wouldn’t want to take the chance that I might not enjoy it as much. It’s the same thing with everything. People won’t want to hire applicants that are unsure of what they’re doing: they want potential employees that are experienced and carry themselves well.
Another reason why putting on a professional persona helps is that in a way, it helps you become that person. If people treat you as a successful person, they will be more positive and encouraging, and thus your job will get easier. It’s a lot easier to play the part of a professional that knows what you’re doing when people treat you that way.
You may be reading this and think I’m trying to tell you to lie to people and tell them you’re better than you really are. Absolutely not. Lying will never get you anywhere you want to be (unless you’re really, really good).
All I’m saying is that when you are given the opportunity to talk about you (in an interview, with a friend, even non-verbally like through clothing,) don’t be upfront with your flaws. If people ask about them, that’s different. When people ask me about my writing, I tell them I’m not published. I’m not ashamed of it, but it’s not something I tell people right away, because then their view goes from “author” to “wannabe”, which is detrimental to my career. People will look at you in a different light if your shortcomings are less apparent, so make them dig for it if they have to.
You don’t have to change yourself all at once, either. Even if you just go from wearing t-shirts to button-up shirts like I did, it still has a significant impact. And even if it doesn’t stick long term, it doesn’t hurt to try.