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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Returning to School

Dear Sue: I've held low paying job for many years and finally decided to return to school to help me get a better job. I've always known I could do better than what I have settled for in the past, and I am ready to put the past behind me.

I am preparing to take my Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer exams, and will be getting a diploma from a trade school. However, as I make the transition from my current type of job to a professional career, I need as much advice as possible for this dramatic switch. I would like to make the most of myself, and want to look my best. My trade school does have a career class, which is a great start, but I could use all the advice I can get. 

- Joanne

Sue Says: Congratulations! Letters such as yours are so uplifting! Not only have you taken steps to further your skills, but you've also recognized that you need to do more than simply acquire more knowledge.

Many people believe that the image they project shouldn't matter. However, the way you present yourself does matter, especially when you are out interviewing.

In fact there are many myths when it comes to image and professionalism. It seems timely to be addressing this issue, as many students will be graduating soon and looking for employment.

The following true/false questions are taken from the book I wrote, How to Gain the Professional Edge. Take this short quiz and see what your professional quotient is:

  1. We draw long lasting conclusions about people within the first few seconds of meeting them. True or False?
  2. You can tell a lot about a person by the condition of his or her shoes. True or False?
  3. The longer you are at a job, the less important your appearance becomes. True or False?
  4. Body language often tells the truth, despite what you communicate verbally. True or False?

And now the answers:

  1. True. If you fail to make a positive first impression, you might never get the chance to connect with someone. Within 5-10 seconds of meeting someone, we make long lasting judgments and conclusions about that person. Within seconds we determine whether or not someone is intelligent, credible, successful or trustworthy. We all make first impressions and we all have them made about us. The good news is that we have the ability to decide and determine the type of impression we want to make by thinking about it and planning it.
  2. True. You can try to dress appropriately, but if it's not "head to toe", you reveal a lack of attention to detail. You may think no one will notice the run-down heel or unpolished shoes, but it will be noticed. Attention to detail is crucial, down to the pen you use, because it too will be noticed. A chewed up 19-cent pen does nothing to enhance your appearance! 
  3. False. Your appearance always is important. You might think about it more when you dress for an interview, but once you have the job, the way you appear affects how others perceive you and opportunities for advancement. In a casual environment, it's equally and sometimes more important. Dress for the job you want rather than the one you have. 
  4. A study by Dr. Albert Mehrabian at UCLA showed that 93 percent of what is believed about people is based on visual messages, not on credentials or the content of conversation. This means that the way you handle yourself and others, and the people skills, enthusiasm and leadership qualities you convey are every bit as critical to your success (if not more so) than technical or professional expertise. Be aware of the way you carry yourself, making eye contact, and especially your facial expressions. Even your handshake can be revealing. 

Continue to evaluate how you want to come across. Take classes offered to you, seek the advice of others and continue to focus both on your credentials and your business image and you will be well on your way! I wish you the best. Good luck!

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

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
For more Ask Sue articles, click here.

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