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Managing Professional Thresholds with Image Management

We talked of select typical threshold situations in our introductory blog related to transitioning threshold situations successfully through effective image management. Each individual profile and situation looks equally important and we talked in separate blogs of the different individual profiles and the typical situations they face – students, homemaker-turned-professionals, and in our blog on the personal front, we dealt with marriage as a threshold situation.

In addition to these, we face professional threshold situations which are some of the trickiest and have far-reaching repercussions in our professional lives.

Ask successful people how they crossed their professional thresholds and the answer’s likely to be talent and hard work.

There is more to it than that.

While image management itself plays a key role, how you manage your image across the thresholds plays a critical role.

30% of Fortune 500 CEOs are over 6 feet tall although only 4% Americans stand that tall, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Further, earnings are 2.5% more per inch of height, according to research by Sheena Iyengar. Deeper voices and physically fit CEOs too earn more.

This is not to say that if you aren’t tall or don’t have a deep voice, you won’t make it. It just shows the importance of the image you project and the first impression you make towards advancing your career. And each of these successful CEOs manage their image to suit the next rung of the ladder, long before they reach the threshold itself.

Many Steps Make a Threshold

When you are being considered for a position in a company, you are likely to face more than one interview, first a clearance from human resources and then from your department. The higher the position, the more people you are likely to meet, sometimes at the same time, sometimes across multiple interviews. Each meeting is a threshold you must cross, showing different facets of your personality and expertise. Human resources could be looking for your fit within the organization, the department and the role, the potentially future boss will be looking at how you will fit in with his or her plans and the team, your ability to handle stress and your capacity to deliver on your work responsibilities. The higher up you go, the more complex things get.

Each of these interviews is a small threshold you must cross before you can be offered the job. Hence, through each of them, you must project a positive image that suits the role while remaining true to yourself. You need to understand the interviewer’s expectations and perceptions, turning your responses accordingly.

Which factors determine success in clearing these thresholds?

In a study, interviewers referred to the influence of a host of factors from clothing style to makeup, eye contact and body language to small talk, handshakes and body odour on their decision to select a candidate. It is these first impressions that get you the job or ruin your chances.

Says a C-level human resource executive, “What everyone is aware of is that we assess candidates’ experience, their current and past companies and their current role to see whether there is a fit with our company and the role for which we are interviewing them. What is not very evident, but is equally important, is that we assess candidates to see whether they have certain other qualities required for the position they are here to fill – leadership, ability to think out of the box, to manage people and more – these are attributes as necessary as in depth domain knowledge to perform the job. We also see whether they are open to learning, whether they are adaptable, whether they are just a passenger on the train or are ready to take their career forward. These things are many times a step up to the candidate’s profile.”

Unsurprisingly, these become evident through the four elements of image management – clothing, grooming, body language and vocal communication.

“That’s true,” says the executive. “All of us make the effort to dress right for each occasion. Your dress code for a job in the banking sector would be completely different from your dress code for a designer’s profile. So, we do look at that aspect given our company’s domain and the profile for which we are evaluating the individual. These aspects cannot be cultivated overnight. As for grooming, it isn’t only about short, neat hair and a tie. It speaks of the cultural environment of our company versus the candidate’s fit within this environment. Same goes for body language and communication. When we choose candidates for marketing jobs for example, we do look at how clients will perceive them. The same attributes may not be applicable to a candidate for a back-office profile.”

Image consultants understand this fact well and hence work with your inner self to project a positive image of yourself, helping you cross the career thresholds successfully and realise your professional goals.

Appraisals and Promotions

My manager already knows me. How my image can play a part in my promotion at this stage, you might say.

Truth is promotions are important thresholds in your career. And you require a change in image well before you are due for promotion. Your manager and the human resource department are assessing you for your future capabilities. You must exude the persona required for the next threshold and the larger responsibility.

Your current work is likely to be just one part of the larger responsibility. Maybe you are a regional sales manager for whom the next rung is being the zonal head. Or heading the entire product line. Or you are a finance manager looking upwards to the position of a General Manager. You ought to project the image that shows without doubt that you are the right person to take on greater responsibilities.

Much of the future role involves learning-on-the-go while you deliver results. It is that higher responsibility which you must project your capability for. This capability isn’t visible in the tangible facts of your past performance. It is an impression your boss or your seniors gather about you.

Unknown to you, it isn’t always favourable. In frustration, one CEO of a large company asked his human resource department to have his business unit heads to at least undergo lessons in dining etiquette, if not the full deal of managing their image. Their lack of etiquette put him in a spot when assigning international responsibilities to them.

Client Pitches and Larger Responsibilities

You might be a consultant – a lawyer, client servicing executive in an ad agency, a marketing or business consultant, financial consultant or in any of the professional businesses. You could be in business for the first time, when, needless to say, you are trying to cross a far more difficult threshold. You are not part of a company based on whose credibility you may win a client. It’s all up to you and first impressions count.

Or let’s suppose you are known to your current client base, but have your sights set higher on the big guns on the customer side. Each time you step up and make a pitch for a larger client or a larger account, you are crossing a threshold. You have worked day and night to perfect your pitch, but all that comes to nothing if you cannot make positive first impressions. This is a big threshold you are crossing – from small clients to the big league. Taking a relook at the image your project and fine tuning it to meet the requirements of the new, larger client base is necessary before you can sail through.

To create a positive impression, you need to project the image that inspires confidence in others regarding your ability to handle the new professional role or to build new relationships.

Moving Abroad

Your company might post you abroad temporarily or for a longer-term. Or you are part of an international team, travelling abroad. Or you may be moving abroad to make a fresh start.

If there is one threshold situation that marks a big shift and requires a change in image, it is this. It’s time to follow the adage, when in Rome, live as the Romans do. You certainly need a change in image. In a new culture, it is very important to integrate quickly and seamlessly to make the most of the opportunities. With big and small changes from clothing, grooming, body language to vocal communication, one cannot leave it to chance when taking the big step of travelling or moving abroad.

From business to dining etiquette to taboos and local meanings of gestures and words, there is much to learn. Equally important is the way you clothe and groom yourself, your body language and vocal communication. What’s politically correct in one country may be frowned upon in another. The local team might be too polite to point out when you aren’t doings right. It is of great importance for you to take the professional guidance of an image consultant to find your way through the maze of an alien culture.

As a professional, you will face many thresholds in your professional career. You can anticipate most of them, in fact you will be preparing yourself for the technical and business side of these higher thresholds. Keep in mind that you need to prepare your image at the same time to meet the demands of the next threshold.

Read more about how celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Narendra Modi manage their image across thresholds. Among the typical threshold situations of everyday life, read how students, homemakers-turning-professionals and those who cross the threshold of marriage manage their image. Read how prisoners can manage their image when entering mainstream life.

The entire look and feel of this shoot are visually pleasing as well as harmonious; from the attire to the colour choices to the jewellery, it was a delightful experience watching this creative piece of work.

The Tanishq campaign may have done well overall, however, it could have received a much better response if everything could have been viewed holistically.

About the Author

The author, Suman Agarwal, is the senior-most Image Consultant in the Indian Sub-continent and director of Image Consulting Business Institute. Image Consulting Business Institute is a pioneer in India and one of the biggest brands in the world in Image Management and Soft Skills Training Space. It offers programs for people to become Image Consultants and Soft Skills Trainers and at the same time offers Image Management and Soft Skills Training services to individuals and companies.

To become an Image Consultant visit
To hire an Image Consultant for personal consultation visit
To hire an Image Consultant for corporate services visit 
Suman herself undertakes select personal consultation and corporate training assignments. Write to for any such assignments.

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