I wrote Skeleton in My Closet, a blog for AdvisorOne (then InvestmentAdvisor.com), in August 2007. Since then, I’ve received a steady stream of emails about it; asking specific questions, or telling me how much it helped the writer. So I convinced the AdvisorOne folks to repost the blog below, and I thought it would be cool to take this opportunity to add an intro to address some of the comments I’ve received over the years, as well as to add some follow-up thoughts of my own.
After working with young advisors and advisory students for quite a few years now, I’ve come to realize that this blog isn’t really about how one should dress—it’s about the realization that success isn’t only about you (or me). Success is also about how others perceive you. How other people see you plays an inexplicably large role in their decisions about you as a professional and whether they want to associate with you. I recently read about a study conducted at Harvard on the students themselves, where they were asked about their perceptions of their professors after the first 30 seconds of their first class, and then again at the end of the semester. The result? Those initial 30-second impressions didn’t change at all over the ensuing six months.
Now I’m not saying this perception thing is good, or right, or even makes any sense. I’m simply saying it’s just the way it is. You can make your life easier or harder depending on how you present yourself. It’s your choice. And I’m not saying you should “do anything” to succeed, just asking whether classing up a bit the way you dress—and act—isn’t a small price to pay to advance your career.
This is especially true if you’re already struggling to overcome some stereotype, like, say, being a young, blonde, blue-eyed, reasonably attractive young woman. Or even just being a young advisor. We all face the same problem: getting older folks to take us seriously. Sure, you could get a Ph.D. in economics, or launch your own successful hedge fund, but in the financial world, I’ve found it’s far easier to simply dress as if you are already successful; which is to say, the way successful financial professionals dress.
If you’re confused about this, just go to an industry conference and check out the way other professionals of both sexes dress who are trying to impress advisors: wholesalers, B/D execs, and the speakers on the agenda (except Bob Veres). You’ll get the picture pretty quick. And drop the whole ‘That’s-just-not-me’ routine: it’s not about you, at least not at first. Get a couple hundred million in AUM on your books, then you can dress any way you want.
(Originally posted on InvestmentAdvisor.com, now AdvisorOne.com, on Sept. 29, 2007)
Skeleton in My Closet: Does what you wear really matter?
For the past six years, my mentor has been quite forthright with me about the way I dress in professional settings. I dress conservatively, but the problem he had was how I shopped and, essentially, the labels on my purse, watch, shoes and suit. He wanted me to look older and more mature by being slightly overdressed to show people that I was not only “smart but prosperous.”
Conservative by nature, I was taught that clothing wasn’t the essence of who I am and I certainly didn’t need to spend thousands of dollars on the biggest brand names to find good friends, business associates or clients. Furthermore, I am a college educated financial planner who knows that the time value of money is my greatest asset and I should use it while I am young. So logically, I would rather save my money.