47 Easy Ways to Improve Your Image at Work

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Sunday 10th October 2010
In this article
  • Improving your image with changes to yourself.
  • Improving your image with changes to your environment.
  • Improving your image with changes to how you interact with coworkers.

Whether you're looking for a promotion or a little respect, consider improving your image around the workplace. You'll see results quickly when you employ the following SharpWork tips:

Changes to Yourself

Many of the images generally associated with "success" have nothing to do with actually doing more, better or higher. They’re just images that we associate with people who are more, better or higher. So while they may sound cheesy, consider incorporating some of these suggestions. You’ll be surprised by the response that you get.

Look like a winner.

Carry a briefcase or portfolio to work. Even if it only contains your lunch, bring it anyway.

Dress as if you work in the position you would receive if you got a promotion.

Watch your posture. Nothing says "menial worker" like a poor posture.

Be prompt for everything. Don't be early. Don't be late. Just be on time.

Keep your personal e-mail and phone call time short.

Change your voice mail daily or weekly. Include the relevant dates and information about when you’ll be out of the office in "meetings."

Record an outgoing voice mail message that lets callers know that you’ll return their call by the close of the business day. Then actually return calls by day’s end or apologize for not doing so. (For more information on leaving professional voice mail messages, see SharpTravel Voice Mail Road Rules).

Even if it means writing slowly, make your handwriting legible. If you’re beyond help in this department, type all casual communications, or use e-mail.

If your firm’s risk management policy allows for this, create memo letterhead for yourself. This is easily accomplished by putting your name and contact information in a script font on the header of a document. Center the words and bold your name. Print a copy to see what it looks like.

Always carry something wherever you go. Often a manila envelope, file folder or floppy disk is appropriate.

Eat lightly in social situations. This keeps you from looking like a glutton and getting sleepy.

When talking, be aware of what your body is doing. Talk with your palms apart, fingertips together, pointing gently at the person to whom you're speaking. Your hands should be just above your bellybutton and about four to six inches from your body. This projects a confident image.

Don’t scare away colleagues and the boss.

Smile.

Make sure your breath is always pleasant.

Consider getting your teeth whitened or use whitening toothpaste. (See Whitening Your Teeth.)

Keep your voice down in open-office arrangements. No one is loathed more quickly than the guy whose voice constantly thunders above the cube farm.

Keep a change of clothes in your desk drawer. You know how it works: you'll spill food on yourself the day you're scheduled to meet with the president of the company.

Be informed.

Always carry a respectable newspaper. Read it, too.

Read one or two trade magazines every month.

Don’t become a risk-management issue.

Laugh at tasteful jokes.

Avoid dating at work. Many romances can lead to indiscreet stories you simply don’t need floating around the office.

Never visit erotic Web sites while at the office, or on employer-issued laptops. Similarly, never send sexually explicit e-mails from your employer-issued account and never leave sexually explicit voice mails for coworkers.

Watch what you say. Keep your language clean, crisp and professional.

Never yell at support staff or coworkers.

Cull your treasure trove of stories and personal anecdotes. Remove the "I was totally hammered" stories and try to increase the usage of your "I was at the opera last week" stories. Be truthful and don’t be pompous, but present your culturally interested side.

Be interesting.

Read a great book rather than watch TV. Then, when office conversation turns toward the latest show, you can "confess" that you were engrossed in Conrad or Camus. (And if you pronounced that last one "Kay-muss" rather than "Kammoo" you should consider doing this right away). Rather than sounding pretentious, you may find a commonality with a well-read coworker or with the boss.

Create a different way to say hello and goodbye on the phone. Consider saying something like "I appreciate your call" rather than the standard "John speaking."

Changes to Your Environment

As with the suggestions above, some of these ideas may strike you as "fake" and "not really me." But how many of us have the luxury of being the real "us" in our working situations? Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you’re not one of the lucky few. Besides, everyone knows that it’s not always the best worker who gets ahead. Often it’s the guy who looks good to the boss. And for those of use who are not "the best," why not beef up our images and look like we are?

Avoid bad press.

Don’t pin up the latest "Ten Reasons Bosses Suck" that someone e-mailed you.

Change your mug from the "I can't function without coffee" mug to a one-color mug in a dark color. (This looks good and hides that unpleasant coffee stain). Make sure your mug is empty and clean at the end of the day.

Match your desk to the image of a valuable team member.

Keep your desk in such a way that it looks like you do all the work in your department but you keep it all in good order. Not clean, but not messy. Neat, orderly, and definitely not empty.

Have an in-box that always has a couple things in it (but is not too full). Perhaps have your "real" in-box in your desk drawer and a supplementary in-box on your desk, just for show.

Change your screensaver and your computer's wallpaper from the clever cartoon meant to razz your boss to something harmless, like your dog, your wife or an attractive panoramic photo. Avoid images of places you’d rather be (these images imply that your head is elsewhere) or anything that may be offensive to anyone at the office.

Create a pleasant working area.

Place a potted plant on your desk. Keep it alive. Some fish might be nice, too. Avoid naming them after cartoon characters.

If you play music at your desk, keep it really low and consider playing classical or jazz pieces.

If you have a private office, consider bringing in a print, painting or drawing that you like. Even if it’s a painting, you don't have to spend a lot. There are plenty of local artists who can paint well. But tasteful stuff only, guys. Nothing sexy, political or violent. Avoid the overused "encouragement"-type posters that display a picture and an "inspiring" phrase.

Changes to the Way You Interact with Coworkers

Another great way to improve your image at work is to rally the troops — get your coworkers on your side. Again, some suggestions may seem over the top, but, remember, each is designed to elicit the loyalty of your coworkers by demonstrating that you care about them as people (even if that’s not true):

Make each person think you care about him or her.

Give tasteful cards on birthdays and important events.

Or, for most of us: actually learn and remember people's birthdays and give them cards.

Remember facts about people and ask about them later: "Mary, how did your move go last weekend? Do you like your new place?" Inquire about your coworkers’ families or the health of a sick pet. Don’t be pushy if no information is forthcoming.

Go to the library and read two magazines every month. It doesn't matter if it's a senior's magazine and you're not a senior or it's a women's magazine and you're not a woman. You will see your broadened interests pay off in big ways as you become more interesting and accessible to each person you work with or meet.

Look like a stand-up guy.

If your industry or company has a busy season, show that you’re a member of the team (or, more suitable, the leader) by bringing in bagels, doughnuts, pastries or other office favorite.

Send copious thank-you notes to everyone, all the time and for every reason.

Offer to do a job no one else wants to do. Don't do this often (why would you want to?), but do it once in a while (just enough to be seen as the office hero, without becoming a dumping ground for unwanted work).

Follow up on promises. One promise freely given and rarely pursued is the promise to take a coffee break or have lunch with coworkers. Set dates and keep them.

Be the "positive" (but not annoyingly upbeat) guy.

Freely encourage people.

Talk about people behind their back only when you are praising them for something they've done. Never talk about their negative or positive traits. Stick to the great job they did on one thing or another. Talk about this often. For information on dealing with the real deadbeats in your office, see SharpWork’s Dealing with Deadbeats.

Avoid office gossip, office politics, office romances, office soap operas, and office relationships. (For the whole lowdown, see SharpWork’s Office Politics 101.)

Treat every person you meet with dignity and honest respect — no more for the boss and no less for the mailperson. And definitely read Dealing with Support Staff to ensure that all of your coworkers are on your team.

This article last updated on Sunday 10th October 2010
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