Passport Series: Appearance

Nelsa Uson

By this time in your journey, you hopefully have a clearer picture of why developing your soft skills is essential for being successful in the workplace. We talked about setting high standards for yourself and achieving goals to show your motivation; reacting constructively to expected and unexpected changes; learning to display a positive attitude and; the importance of being able to give and receive information well. This week we’re moving right along to talk about appearance, which is defined as the ability to present oneself appropriately in a workplace setting. This includes things like clothing, cleanliness, and first impressions.

Let’s take a look at each of those more closely.

Clothing. While dressing business professional may not be appropriate across the board, there are still certain “rules” to keep in mind when getting dressed for the workplace. The first is to wear the appropriate clothing for your role. If you’re a sales representative at a Nike store, for example, you wouldn’t wear Adidas clothing during your shift. You should also keep in mind the specific dress code your workplace adheres to. At-shirt may be perfectly fine in one place but completely inappropriate in another. The second is, once you figure out what to wear, make sure they’re clean and wrinkle-free. It doesn’t matter how well put-together your clothing is if it has visible stains or looks like it’s been slept in (more on this in the next point).

In most cases your workplace will expect you to represent them in the outside world. This is why you need to show right from the beginning that not only can you act professionally, you can dress professionally too.

Cleanliness. We talked about looking presentable with your clothing, but we need to talk about looking presentable in your appearance too. Again, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this as each workplace will have different tolerances depending on the industry. In general though, it’s important to look and smell clean. For example, if you have longer hair, make sure it’s groomed and not covering too much of your face. Why? Eye contact is an important part of communication, so you want to make sure people can see your eyes.

Smell is a sensitive, but important, thing to talk about. Let’s start off with a safety issue; there are many people who are highly sensitive to scents, and we’re not just talking about someone who can’t stand the smell of lavender, but people who have real physical reactions to scent. Know the policies regarding this in your workplace, but even if there aren’t specific rules, you should still be mindful of the types of products you use to ensure a safe environment for everyone. And, of course, we all know, or can imagine, how uncomfortable it is to work with someone with bad hygiene, so make sure you do what you need todo in order to avoid awkward interactions regarding this.

Lastly, first impressions. It only takes a few seconds for someone to come to a conclusion about you, and while you can’t 100% control what other people think, there are still somethings you can do to move towards a more positive interaction.

Since we already covered appearance, which is a big part of making a good first impression, let’s focus in on something we haven’t spent much time on, on this blog: showing up on time. In any scenario, it’s considered rude to keep someone waiting, but this is especially important when you’re meeting with an employer. Time is valuable, so show the employer that you respect theirs by being there at the time you’re expected. Doing this is also a simple and straightforward way of saying, “I’m reliable” – bonus!


The thing to keep in mind for any of these is to put your best self forward. While as a whole we’re getting better at not judging by appearances, we still have a long way to go before we can get away from certain assumptions. Instead of thinking of “looking good” or “looking presentable” as an obstacle, see it as part of the process of setting yourself up for success. You spent enough time writing and re-writing your resume to make sure it’s a good representation of you, now make sure that you are a good representation of you.