1/ The HR director concluded the elaborate presentation of the two candidates for promotion to senior management and asked for input from all the members of the board of directors. They all selected candidate A even though candidate B was by far better qualified.
2/ I was the managing director of the firm and knew the capabilities of both candidates better than the non-executive board members so I probed deeper, trying to understand why they wanted candidate A instead of the better qualified candidate B.
3/ Their response boiled down to, “he just doesn’t look the part”. Candidate B is a nice guy; he is hardworking; he is very good at the job BUT HE JUST DOESN’T LOOK THE PART.
4/ Candidate B was the best among his peers on the job but he dresses like a slob. He wears weird, flowery orange, yellow, and green shirts and looks like he just rolled out of bed into the office in his sleepwear. HE REALLY JUST DIDN’T LOOK THE PART.
5/ One of the most important element In making the transition from middle to senior management is looking the part. Senior managers represent the firm, therefore sloppy dressing and uncouth appearances are often disqualifying regardless of technical and management skills.
6/ Candidate B was about to lose a senior management role to a less qualified gentleman despite years of outstanding work, great client relationship, exceptional technical skills , and stellar management skills.
7/ Fortunately for him, I stepped in and asked the board to promote him on a 3-month probational basis and that I would work with him over the 3 months to get him to look the part.
8/ After the board meeting, I called him to my office and read him the riot act. I took him to a nearby boutique, paid for 4 sets of cloths based on the formula for him and wrote him the formula for buying an additional six sets to complete his wardrobe.
9/ Here is the formula: 3 X 3 tops by 2 X 2 X 2 bottoms
3 X 3 tops:
SHIRTS COLOR (3): White, Blue, Black
SHIRT PATTERN (3): Plain, stripes, checks
2 X 2 X 2 Bottom
BELT (2) X TROUSERS (2) X SHOES (2): Black, Brown.
10/ The formula: Shirts should be plain, stripes, or checks in white, blue, or black color. Shoes, belt, and trousers must be black or brown. Match brown/black shoes, belt, and trousers and pair with any of the shirts. Repeat until you feel confident to add colors and patterns.
11/ 3 takeaways:
1. Dress for your next level, not your current one.
2. Follow the formula until you’re confident enough to pull off a pink or magenta shirt with window panes pattern.
3. Senior managers represent the firm. Would you make a good representative?
1. Some industries have less stringent “looking the part” requirement Eg. tech and advertising so this may not be a universal principle.
2. I don’t have a “looking the part” formula for the ladies. Apologies. Please feel free to share your ladies’ formula via comments.
This is even more important for women and people of color. The template for senior management is white and male. You have to work twice as hard to look the part and make the cut.
– Dr. Tayo Oyedeji