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Book Excerpt from
How to Gain the Professional Edge,
Second Edition

by Sue Morem

It’s up to YOU!

How to Gain the Professional Edge was written to provide you with insight and information you can use that will give you every advantage you need to succeed. This book covers many important issues, starting with who you are and where you want to go. It’s up to you to set new goals and it’s up to you to accomplish them. You are responsible for what happens next.

You have the power to achieve your own professional edge. You have the information you need; it’s up to you to make the principles in this book work. If you are open to others, open to their feedback, and open to change, I guarantee you’ll have every opportunity to excel--and enjoy the process! Your attitude and openness will determine the way others respond to you. In order to bring out the best in others, you first need to bring out the best in yourself. Everything you do or don’t do is determined by you!

Four Simple Rules that Guarantee Your Success

We live in an era of constant change, and at times it may seem as though “anything goes,” but don’t be fooled. You can do it your way, and you might defy the odds, but there are, and always have been, rules in business; no less real for being unwritten or unspoken.

The moment you accept a position, you accept all of the responsibilities that go with it. As you step into a new “role,” you’re “performance” will determine how successful you will be. You must “play the part” of a true professional, and play it exceptionally well.

Actors know what it takes to play a part well; an actor will make changes in appearance, mannerisms, and speech in order to become the character he or she plays. And you can learn from them. Pay attention to these four rules:

1. Look the part.

To be successful, you have to project an image with which your clients, your employer, and your colleagues are comfortable. Don’t think that making changes to your image is giving up your individuality or compromising who you really are; you’re being sensitive, savvy, and smart. To be successful, you need to project an image that your clients, your employer, and colleagues are comfortable with.

The next time you enter a store or a party, pay attention to the clerk, or the companion, you seek out. It is likely you will gravitate toward those who look as if they can help you (in a store) or will be interesting to talk to (at a party). What makes someone look approachable? Are they people close to your own age, educational level, and back ground—people who look like you? It’s simple human nature, however predictable it might seem, to feel most comfortable with people who look, more or less, like us.

We also tend to favor the expected over the unexpected in others’ appearance. Would you be more likely to trust a doctor in a lab coat and stethoscope, or one (perhaps equally competent) dressed in shorts and sunglasses? Would you be more apt to hire a carpenter wearing overalls and a tool belt or one wearing a sport coat and tie?

You actually have more latitude to be yourself and to con tribute your particular skills and ideas when you look the part you want to play. By looking the part, you eliminate superficial barriers, enabling others to listen to and accept what you have to say. When it comes to clothing and grooming, anyone can enhance his or her look with attention to detail and up-to-date grooming and wardrobe tips, and you can too.

2. Act the part.

You don’t have to be a professional actor to act the part of a professional. You do, however, need to understand the role nonverbal communication plays in the way you come across to others. Acquiring new mannerisms and behaviors requires focus and determination. Controlling your gestures when you are under duress is something you can do to help you appear more confident. You need to literally “walk the walk” and “talk the talk” so that you appear the same as any successful person in your position.

Most business people will, at some point, find themselves in the position of introducing colleagues to one another, hosting or attending a business function, or socializing with clients and colleagues. These are just a few of the most common situations in which knowledge of business etiquette will see you through.

Knowing how to make yourself and others feel comfortable is an art, and can make all the difference in the way you perceived. Etiquette is a skill worth perfecting if you are really serious about being successful in any field. When you act the part, you become the part.

3. Be the part.

Although a particular suit, hairstyle, or handshake can con tribute to (or detract from) your professional image, your ability to demonstrate that you are capable, congenial, and constant will cinch the impression. Apply the “Three C’s Test” as a quick way to monitor and modulate your encounters with the various “audiences” and “theaters” of your working life:

Capable: Do you look and act like somebody who can do the job—not only the job you have, but the one you’re striving toward?

Congenial: Do you look and act like someone your clients, customers, boss, and co-workers can talk to and work with? Are you sincere, approachable, friendly, and helpful?

Consistent: Do you look and act trustworthy? Are you dependable, the kind of person people can count on—because you do what you say?

The creative director of an ad agency, the attorney, and the manager of high-fashion retail store all need to come across as capable, congenial, and consistent in their particular setting. They are unlikely to dress or behave alike. But the ones who are suc cessful will look, act and be within the norm of what is expected in their particular industry and workplace.

You’ll be more successful if you are attentive to what that norm is in the job you have or the job you want, and operate within it. It’s that simple.

4. Think the part.

With so much focus on your outer image, be careful not to neglect your inner image. Your thoughts influence your actions; improve your performance by improving your thinking. Think your way to success; think positively.

Your thoughts about (and response to) the changes that take place play a key role in how successful you will be. Your willingness to step outside of your comfort zone and take chances will benefit you.

Change is something many people resist, but change is an important part of life, both at work and at home. Over time we change our tastes, our friends, our interests, our goals, and our jobs. We change because we choose to and at times because we have to. Either way, change can be good.

Even a downsizing situation, which no employee can control, can turn into a positive experience for employees who must find a new job. Although initially the news can be devastating, many people eventually uncover new interests, find new opportunities, go into business for themselves, or end up re-evaluating and fine-tuning their goals. Embrace change. Think of it as a chance to change the way you’re doing things, to grow and improve.

Risk presents opportunities to experience great success by stretching yourself beyond the ordinary. The only way to go from wanting something to having something is by doing something. For years, I had the dream of becoming a business advice columnist. My public relations per son gave me the number of the business editor of our local newspaper after I told her about my idea for the column. After vacillating about whether or not I should try to contact the editor, I got up enough courage to make the call. I could tell he wasn’t enthused and just as he was about to hang up the phone, I convinced him to meet me for lunch.

I had to work with this editor for a full year writing sample columns, other articles, and calling him regularly to check in. When Tom Peters stopped writing his column, my window of opportunity opened and I received the call I had been waiting (and hoping) for.

One phone call, and taking a big risk, forced me to stretch, step out of what I ordinarily did, and create something new. The results were well worth it. Take risks. Don’t wait for things to happen to you, make them happen!

Copyright 2005 Checkmark Books/Facts on File

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

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