I’m sure someone at some point in your career has told you to “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” (Has it ever?) While this career advice is both hopeful and valuable, does it still ring true?
In this article, we explore the definition of this adage, the advantages and disadvantages of dressing beyond your role, and the psychology of what it means to dress for success.
What Does it Mean to Dress for the Job You Want?
The goal of dressing for the job you want is to help others see you more authoritatively, increasing your chances of actually landing your desired role.
Take, for instance, an intern seeking full-time employment. Instead of dressing in business casual workwear (which is often the general dress code for most internships), the intern may elevate their appearance by wearing a button-down shirt, fitted work pants, and a patterned flat to give off a more polished, authoritative vibe.
Others at the company who don’t know the employee is an intern will guess they’re in a more senior role — which is exactly the vibe you want to give off when you dress for the job you want.
Reasons to Dress for the Job you Want
1. Dressing for success is a reflection of your cultural competence
Cultural competence refers to a thorough understanding of your surrounding environment. When you dress for success, you’re expressing your professional fluency through your appearance.
When you dress for the job you want, however, you’re taking it a step further by enabling others to see you as you see yourself — which in this case, is in a position of greater authority or expertise.
2. Dressing for the job you want makes a positive impression on others, regardless of how you perform in your role
Part of what makes your interview outfit such an integral part of the process is because your outfit complements your ability. Similarly, how you dress speaks to your capabilities — even if it isn’t directly aligned with your performance.
For example, someone in another department would have no idea how you’re performing in your role unless you outwardly told them. Still, they may assume you’re excelling in your professional blazer, and color pop flats make you look like you are.
Reasons to Dress for the Job You Have
1. You should be judged by the quality of your work, not by how you look
Some companies have moved toward more casual dress codes because they value their employees’ quality of work over their quality of dress. In these cases, an underproducing and underperforming employee may decrease their chances of changing positions, no matter how stylish their wardrobe is.
2. Dressing beyond your role can make you seem unaware of the company culture
Dressing for the job you have shows you understand your company’s culture and the nature of your current role. Dressing for the job you want, especially if you have a way to get there, may come off as outdated or out of touch with your work environment.
5 careers you can start dressing for now
From classy couture to fashionably functional, there’s no denying the impact your style choices can have on your professional reputation. And while it may not be necessary to dress for every job you want, your style choices could increase your chances of landing the following five:
If you’re trying to reach Anna Wintour status — that is, managing an internationally recognized lifestyle magazine — then you’re going to want to look like the most powerful person in the room. Try an edgy cut, vibrant patterns, and textures like leather or raw denim.
2. Political figure
Our former first lady, Michelle Obama, showed us how to dress stylishly and professionally — with no reservations.
Invest in a bold tuxedo, tailored separates, and a sharp court shoe for a chic look. And don’t be afraid to get creative with cowl necks, bell sleeves, and statement earrings to go with a neutral-colored dress.
3. TV Personality
As one of our favorite talk show hosts, Ellen Degeneres is known for pairing fun staples with tasteful separates. Loose professional pieces are an excellent way to mix and match your wardrobe if you like combining clothes to create more looks. You can also dress up each look with a closed-toe heel or down with a clean tennis shoe.
Singer and songwriter, Beyoncé, can do it all — she can sing, dance, act, sell and even rock a high ponytail on the red carpet. If you want to channel her entrepreneurial vibes, experiment with a funky jumpsuit, blazer dress, or a geometrically patterned bag. You could also play with hair colors and styles for a complete, editorial look.
If it’s even possible, Rihanna’s style has gotten even more fashionably striking since being appointed ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of her home country. You can take your own style up a notch by wearing a silhouette statement dress, a two-toned tweed jacket, or pairing a breathable blouse with a pencil skirt.
Whether you’re pro “dress for the job you want” or would rather dress for the job you already have, one truth remains the same for both sides: it’s important to look the part.
If “the part” is right where you are, then we wish you much success in your role, no matter how you look! But if you define “the part” as a future self you’re ready to step into, then we hope this article could open that door for you — if even just a crack.
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This post originally appeared on Fairygodboss and has been republished with permission.