I am privileged to know Jeri, the Executive Director of the Dress for Success organization in the Twin Cities, www.dressforsuccess.org/twincities.  This outstanding, international organization helps women end the cycle of poverty by providing business attire, interview skills and job retention support. Jeri is dedicated to changing how her clients see themselves, as well as how they are perceived by others. I find her work to be inspirational and encourage you to consider supporting Dress for Success or similar organizations. Click HERE to see if there is a Dress for Success chapter where you live.

As an organization like Dress for Success can attest, perception is a powerful thing. So powerful, that others’ perceptions of you can impact your reality.

Have you ever felt trapped or limited by the perceptions that others have of you?  I spoke with a young woman early in her career. She was frustrated because she felt that she was always looked at as the junior person on the team.  She felt trapped in the role because people didn’t see what she was capable of doing and in fact, what she was doing.

In some cases perception can be kept like a snapshot frozen in time. Imagine some of your high school friends—I bet there are a couple you thought based upon who they were back then – “Class Clown,” “Party Animal” – would never make it. Yet look at them now, they have ended up in significant, high-profile roles. Somewhere along the line, they were able to greatly change how they were viewed by others.

If you feel the perception that others have of you may not be accurate – if you want to change how you are perceived to move your career forward, you can’t wait for others to notice. You have to change the picture:

  • Show the facts. Don’t assume the leaders in your organization know those details.  Remember they are likely busy.  If you want them to know, show them. Look for opportunities to share in writing what you have done.
  • Offer to take on projects to show what you can do. Look for opportunity to demonstrate what are capable of doing, then do it well.
  • Change your outward presentation. People may think you are junior because you dress like you are still in college. Or they make think you are too senior because you haven’t updated your glasses in 10 years.  Small things can distract from you real talents.
  • Learn to professionally toot your own horn.  This is hard one for most people, but you can practice ways to do bring visibility to your success. For example, “I had set a personal goal to get my MBA, and I did it! I completed my degree this month.  I just wanted to share my good news with you.”  Or “ I just  learned that  I am in the top 10% of my colleagues.  This is a milestone I really wanted to achieve. My next goal is to be on the top of the list!”  “Although this role was titled a project coordinator, it was highly complex. I had the opportunity to lead this work stream on my own and it was of XX size, scope and value.”
  • Ask specifically what you need to do, or target to achieve to be promoted.  It could be that your manage doesn’t even know you want more.
  • Engage a sponsor in your quest.   Find a mentor or a coach within the organization who can help you through the politics or be on the lookout for opportunities.  Enlist others to help you. It not only can help you achieve your goals, but theirs as well.
  • There are times that the only way to change the picture is to change the organization, department or company you work for.  Be sure your resume and your interview style reflect what you can and want to be.

I’d love to hear your personal experiences with this topic. What are some actions you’ve taken when you’ve felt that others’ perceptions of you weren’t accurate? What was the outcome?

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