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Early 2000 when I was still working for SAICA I wrote about this topic – I’ve decided to tackle it again because I feel that it’s still very relevant. SAICA had a youth-based magazine called XL (Excel at Life) that focused on providing career and lifestyle-related advise on a quarterly basis.

I’m covering this topic because I’d like to re-emphasize the importance of first impressions. Let’s start by defining non-verbal communication. This is when you communicate with other people without uttering a word but rather using gestures that include posture, eye contact and general body language. The way you dress is also considered as one of the aspects of non-verbal communication and has social significance to your audiences. Your dress sense conveys non-verbal clues about your background and personality.

Most experts agree that 70-93% of all communication is non-verbal. One of the most well-known research projects on non-verbal communication was led by Dr Mehrabian in the 1960s. These stats are an indication of how important it is to dress properly when you go for interviews and also maintaining this when you start working. I mentioned first impressions because your dress sense speaks for you before you even open your mouth, people start judging you by how you look. If you go to work dressed in tights, flip-flops and a t-shirt then unfortunately no one will take you seriously in business. Dressing like this gives the impression that you do not take yourself or the people around you seriously – so why should anyone else take you seriously? There’s someone who put it nicely this one time on a current affairs radio show, she said that it’s important to dress for how you want to be addressed.

When I started working, I learnt very quickly that it was important for me to dress for where I was going in my career not where I was. Because I could already see myself as a director in a company one day, I dressed for the position that I aspired for. My formal dress sense – which was not necessarily expensive but decent – during interviews and at work gave everyone the impression that I knew exactly where I was going in life – and I did. You see, I had a small body frame then and I was short, especially when I was a junior writer at FHC – a communication agency specialising in the ICT industry. I found the industry very intimidating because it had a lot of old male CEOs and executives that spoke in a very technical language that took me a while to understand.

Every time, I attended client meetings with these executives from companies that included Progress Software, Mustek (Mecer) and Unisys to name a few – I felt I needed to power dress to be taken seriously. If I had dressed in jeans and takkies in those meetings as tiny and short as I was – everyone would have assumed that I was thirteen. And if I tried to say something in the meeting – no one would have expected anything intelligent to come out of my mouth. In fact, I would have made a bad impression from the time I walked into those boardrooms. My previous CEO at GAM when I was MD at The Grind PR used to say how a person dresses at work translates into the quality of work they produce. So, in essence when a person looks scruffy – the work they deliver unfortunately also becomes just as clumsy. 

Recently, I was approached by two youngsters who read these columns in the local Rep newspaper – one is a first year IT student at WSU here in Komani. He aspires to be an entrepreneur and asked if he can spend time with me so that I can mentor him in everything business. The other has finished her PR Diploma and is looking for an internship opportunity. Firstly, I was impressed by the fact that they even take the time to read the local newspaper and secondly when I asked to meet with them so that I can interview and assess them – they came dressed for the occasion. Their dress sense made another good impression to me before they even spoke. This said to me that they know what they are looking for and life and are going out of their way to get it.

My advice to youth is – when you are working for a company then know that you are representing its brand. Clients/customers want to be serviced by people who look clean and professional. As bosses, we give important projects to employees that do not only speak and look good but also those that deliver quality work; equivalent to how they dress. Also, when opportunity comes – as bosses we promote employees that consistently deliver quality work to our clients however – it all starts with how you look.

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