Imagine this scenario:

An opening is becoming available next month for a higher-level position in your organization. You start daydreaming about how it would feel to be offered the job – which would definitely be a promotion for you and is comfortably within your area of expertise. But then that little voice in your head says, “Maybe I’m not as qualified for the position as some of the other people around here. Perhaps my professional image isn’t quite top-notch. Even though I work hard every day, I think my image is holding me back.”

(Meanwhile, deep inside, you are doing the happy dance of “I want it! I want it!)

Stepping up your professional presence and preparing for the next level can be a bit scary, can’t it? You know this opportunity won’t be open for long – but you keep having this back and forth conversation in your head. Finally, you confide in your spouse or best friend, explaining that you’d love to be considered for this great new promotion and opportunity. But you’re apprehensive because you believe that perhaps your professional image isn’t as polished as it could be. Maybe your boss keeps sidestepping the question each time you ask why your name isn’t on the fast-track list. After all, you’ve noticed the polish, finesse, and charisma that the other contenders display. You’d love to step up your game to their level before your next interview, too, because they make it look so easy to authentically connect, build relationships, and network your way to the top.

Well for anyone who can relate to that experience, here’s the latest news flash: Your professional presence is the best business marketing tool you have to jumpstart your career and achieve greater success, but you need to start improving it NOW!

Whether you realize it or not, your presence is sending powerful but silent messages about you to everyone you encounter or interact with – both at work and elsewhere. Those messages are much louder and more important than anything in your resume, your elevator pitch, or your interview answers. Career advancement opportunities and ideal prospects don’t just magically fall into the laps of your competitors – they come to them because those people are constantly grooming their image and strategically honing their unique personal brand to attract the attention of decision makers. If you wait for the position to open up before working on your image, you’re going to be too late. Professional presence doesn’t work like that. Sure, some people win the lottery. But any financial expert will tell you that buying lottery tickets the day before retirement is not a realistic plan. The same goes for your career and those sweet promotions that come your way. Launching a brand and image campaign the day the position opens up is not an effective game plan. But if you begin investing in your professional image and brand now, career advancement becomes inevitable – because it’s only a matter of time until you’ll be noticed in a way that will have decision makers courting you for desirable positions as they become available.

I talk with many prospects who feel that spending the time and money to step up their overall image is a luxury, but that’s simply not true. Spending money on your personal and professional growth is a necessity in today’s world, just like a solid university education. Unless you are content to keep getting the same old results, polishing your image and promoting your brand is never the wrong decision – it’s one of the smartest investments you can make.

Start now. Once the economy turns around it may be too late, since many organizations are filling their most coveted positions right now, in preparation for an economic rebound. The employee or competitor who has used this time to master their brand and image will be light years ahead of you. People want to work with and hire those who demonstrate leadership initiative by staying ahead of the curve, not those who only know how to follow from the rear. Plant the seed today to strategically create an overall image package that skyrockets over your competition, keeps you memorable in the minds of the HR director and senior level executives, and authentically conveys a personal brand that sells your unique value to the organization.

Assuming you already have a strong work ethic and valuable skills and abilities, let’s explore the top five reasons why an organization would considering promoting you – even though promotions are rare these days:
Your image positively projects the corporate brand.
You have a unique and powerful personal brand.
You have a mastery of effective communications skills.
The ability to build relationships with ease is second nature to you.
You understand innovative strategies to help anyone achieve great results.
In other words, the skills you invest in to polish your professional presence are the same ones that HR directors look for in dynamic and successful leaders that are ready for promotion. Your image ABC’s (Appearance, Behavior, and Communication skills) are the keys that open doors of opportunity and promotion. Let’s take a closer look at those skills and traits.

1) Your Image Reflects the Corporate Brand in a Positive Way

This one may not always seem fair, because companies don’t necessarily openly communicate their desire to promote those who possess this trait. But the fact is that companies do want someone who projects a positive representation of the firm through their Image ABC’s – both internally and externally. The unwritten standard comes up in other ways. Behind closed doors it is a topic of conversation between the top executives when they discuss candidates for promotions. I know, because those same executives and HR directors often call me out of frustration with their employees’ lack of professional presence and awareness of image and brand. I always ask, “Do your people positively represent your corporate brand?” The phone usually goes quiet for a long time as they stop to think about that, and then they answer “No.” If you’re the exception to the rule – and the one who does do a great job of representing your organization – then you’ll be at the top of the fast track list.

2) Your Personal Brand is Unique and Powerful

If you work in a corporate environment or are a high achieving entrepreneur you need to establish a strong personal brand. A unique brand is what makes you stand out over the competition – plus it helps you feel authentic in your leadership abilities because you are confident in who you are. You can speak from the heart to relate to people at all levels. Never try to be someone you aren’t – it never works. A personal brand should be as unique as your thumbprint. When you can define it, express it, and leverage it to keep yourself “authentically in the limelight” you will achieve greater success. Whenever I see leaders step into their personal brand, I’m amazed – and so are they – at how top jobs and elite prospects start to magically appear. Prepare for the future with intent. As the saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed it with my Platinum clients – time after time the universe provides results that are directly in line with their exact affirmations of greater business and career success.

3) Effective Communications Skills

One of the consistent traits of any great leader is the ability to communicate effectively. You have to talk in a clear and succinct manner but also speak from the heart, knowing how to connect to your listeners with language that is suitable for each particular situation. That means you have to listen to your boss, client, or prospect and really hear what they are trying to say and then adapt to their communication style so that what you say resonates with them on a personal level. Then there are the all-important non-verbal skills, which are essentially a learned technique. Too few professionals focus on these today – but non-verbal “body talk” is one of the first things people notice about you and it’s one of the most powerful methods of influential communication. When you are tuned in to your body language and the person you are speaking with it’s like dancing a waltz. You are present and focused on staying in step whether you are the leader or the follower, and that skill ensures a smooth and flawless routine. Being confident in your communication skills during a conversation creates a distinct sense that you know when to lead, when to follow, and when to ask the critical questions.

4) The Ability to Build Relationships with Ease

This is really what I call the “charisma factor.” When you can elicit true interest from others so that they love being around you it automatically and naturally builds rapport. No one can ever be successful in business unless they can build relationships with clients, colleagues, prospects, and employees. Plus, everyone today wants to know “What’s in it for me?” Think about it – doesn’t your boss want to know how you are going to move up the corporate ladder and make his or her job easier so they will become more successful? Or maybe it’s a client or prospect that you genuinely connect with – don’t they want you to really empathize with them and help them solve their problems? As you climb the corporate ladder or step into the entrepreneurial limelight, it’s so important to remember to take a genuine interest in other people. Find out what’s going on in their lives, what ideas they want to share, and what their vision for success in business happens to be.

5) Your Innovative Strategies Help Others Achieve Great Results

Today everyone is looking for new, innovative ideas to drive business. If you work in corporate management you already understand the current pressures to motivate your team to achieve top results. Or if you are an entrepreneur you wear all the hats and the buck stops with you. As the leader you are the visionary head of your department or business and it is your responsibility to paint the overall picture and then develop, motivate, and inspire each of your team members to reach the common objective. No one wants to feel like just another employee. They look to you to make them feel as if they made an essential and unique personal contribution to the success of the team. Today all professionals are under heavy scrutiny. There are fewer available positions and people are being more cautious than ever about how they spend their hard-earned money. So the competition is especially fierce when opportunity knocks. Examine what image components you need to enhance to better define and develop your personal brand, and be ready to overcome the obstacles to success and promotion within your business or company.

Author's Bio: 

As a pioneering and visionary innovator, Sarah is a certified professional image consultant and brand strategist, speaker, trainer and author. Her company, Illustra Image Consulting, provides leading-edge image and brand management strategies for top leaders and high achievers who wish to take their career to the next level. She also delivers innovative and inspiring corporate workshops to assist large organizations in strengthening their corporate brand.
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Copyright © 2010, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS
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