Dear Mr. Molloy:
I am a software engineer and I work for a company that creates programs for the Fortune 500 and others. Our company is only 9 years old but has a reputation as being Innovative and creative. I believe the reason it has this reputation is it pays people right out of school who are at the top of the class signing bonuses and excellent salaries. In addition It gives generous bonuses to engineers who make breakthroughs or contribute to solving major problems. Although I’ve only been working here two years I’m already recognized as one of the best engineers in the company. I have already earned over $40,000 in bonuses.
I see a very bright future for myself at this company that is why I bought a copy of your book Dress for Success. I know it was written in 1975 but I visit corporate American headquarters all the time and believe if someone simply followed your instructions they would be dressed for success today. The one line that caught my attention was dress for the job you want not the job you have and that’s my problem. Everyone in my department including my boss and his boss wears jeans to work as do some of the executives. However, when the executives go to clients offices and I often accompany them, they wear suits. The most informal executive in our company wears sports jackets when dealing with clients.
One day last week trying to follow your advice I wore a pair of beige slacks and a blue sports jacket to work. The minute I showed up I got kidded about how I was dressed. One of the guys said I wanted to be the boss instantly, another when I walked in held open the door and the third said the squirt is taking over. He referred to me as a squirt because I’m 5’ 6’’ while most of my fellow engineers are 6 feet tall, that’s another reason I wore a sports jacket, I think I have to add authority anyway I can. My question is can I get away with wearing a sport jacket and slacks, do you think the other engineers will get used to my new look or should I stick with jeans. If I do will I have to wear sneakers and boots like most of the others
A Confused Software Engineer
Often I have men and women who work in very casual environments tell me that they have no dress code at their organization. They claim they can wear anything but that is not the case. All organizations have dress codes. If you don’t look like a member of the team you will not be treated as well as those who do. Our research shows if you wear anything but jeans it will be hard to get the cooperation of the other engineers. It will also make it more difficult for you to socialize and make friends with your coworkers. When working on a project not only will you find it more difficult to get cooperation from some there are others who might sabotage your work. They’re not going to admit that but our research shows it is an undeniable fact. If you wear anything but the corporate uniform You will be looked upon and treated like an outsider by some of your coworkers. Obviously you should continue to wear jeans.
That does not mean that you should give up on having a successful image. While you should continue to wear jeans they should be neat, pressed and of good quality. Your appearance should be one notch above those of your coworkers. If a few of your co-workers wear dress shirts you should as well. In almost every casual office some wear golf shirts while others t-shirts If you have that choice where golf shirts. A successful image includes everything you wear, while putting wingtips with jeans with make you look silly wearing a nice pair of loafers will upgrade your image.
Good grooming of course is an essential part of an effective image, your hair should be styled so that you look like an executive. If you decide because of your height you need to add power to your look you might try a neatly trimmed beard but only if facial hair is common among the executives. You can also add to your authority by using obviously expensive status items. Surround yourself by as many of these items as possible, you can wear jeans and use an obviously expensive pen eg. gold cross pen. If you have a paperweight or a frame on your desk buy it at Tiffany’s along with your keychain and so forth.
In addition I suggest you approach the executives you accompany to these meetings and ask them if they think you would be more effective if you wore a conservative shirt and a blue blazer when talking to the executives of client companies. Even if they say that they would rather you look like a techie, it will show you think in terms of image and make it more likely that they will move you into a position that requires that you’re dressed better.
However, your image is not your main problem. I edit most letters that are sent to me because I want them to fit into this blog and I want them to ask questions succinctly and ask questions that are of interest to the readers of this blog. I also clean them up just a bit when needed. I do not wish to hurt your feelings but you letter indicated that you are not familiar with standard American English. If it was read by someone who had no background teaching English they might think that you were ignorant and semi-literate and obviously that would dramatically affect your chances of moving into the executive ranks.
I suspect that one of three factors affects your ability to use standard English; You were raised in a foreign country and English is not your first language, you were raised in the United States and you come from a home in which English is not the first language or you come from a very poor background where standard English was not used. For a short time I filled in for a friend and taught English to foreign speaking students. I was giving lesson plans which I followed but I also added some touches of my own. I was advised to have my students listen to the news everyday both on radio and TV. I did that but I also insisted that they record anchormen and anchorwomen. I not only wanted them to hear standard English I wanted them to be able to play back sections of the news broadcast over and over. Since news people invariably use correct pronunciation as well as the vocabulary and phrasing of the upper middle class. They are wonderful models for those learning to speak standard English.There are no shortcuts, the only way to learn to speak standard English is to imitate those who do speak standard English for an hour or two every night for at least a year.
I know I am recommending a difficult set of exercises but as I stated earlier there are no shortcuts, so all I can do is wish you, good luck.