26 February 2007

Do you look the part?

Speak to most professional people and they'll tell you that at some stage of their working lives they felt as if they were fakes.

Speak to most professional people and they'll tell you that at some stage of their working lives they felt as if they were fakes. Just before the surgeon's first incision, the teacher's first class, the journalist's first article.

So what is it that makes you convincing as a car salesman, a mechanic, a hairdresser or a rock singer? What makes the public and your colleagues accept you as a professional in your field? Is it the attitude, the clothing, the confidence or the knowledge?

A BBC Channel 4 programme called 'Faking it' set out to determine this. And how they did it, was by choosing someone whose expertise lay in one field and transforming them into a different kind of 'professional'. They used experts such as voice trainers, stylists and someone who is really an expert in the chosen career path and so forth to transform a particular candidate into another kind of professional. Four weeks down the line, judges had to pick out the fake from four candidates – and they mostly got it wrong.

For this programme, a country vicar has been transformed into a secondhand car salesman, a punk rocker into a classical conductor, a choir girl into a rock chick, an ex-navy officer into a drag queen and a bicycle courier into a polo player. In these cases, all successfully.

Could you be something different?
So what would it take you to be convincing in a new role? Could you see yourself as a dog trainer, a clown, a salesman or a beautician?

The makers of this programme set great store by one's image. If one looks and sounds the part, the rest will follow, they argue. Most of the candidates have a complete makeover – from clothes to hair to makeup, if necessary. More funky hairstyles emerge in most cases and more hip-and-happening clothing. Many of the contestants initially look uncomfortable, but seem to adapt to their new images fairly quickly. In certain cases, people have to be dressed down, such as the punk rocker.

Attitude is everything
But it all seems to lie in the attitude. It's not so much what you say, as how you say it. And this is where voice trainers come in. Confidence, whether based on real knowledge or not, is what seems to be the single marker for success. Being able to mimic others in the field and to use certain phrases associated with that particular profession, fool the judges in the end.

So what does this mean for the rest of us out there in the workplace? Basically, if you want to be taken seriously by your colleagues, it is not just knowledge and experience that counts. Your appearance, attitude and behaviour also mark you out as part of a particular group – one within which you need to find acceptance. A DJ arriving at work in a three-piece suit is unlikely to be accepted, as is an accountant in surfer gear.

So, the bottom line is to watch what others in the profession do or say and follow suit. Learn the jargon, the dress code, the attitude. It is far more likely to get you accepted by your colleagues and clients than another certificate on your office wall. (Susan Erasmus, Health24)


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