Let’s be honest, appearances matter when it comes to being perceived as leadership potential. Like it or not, we’re judged on how we look as a professional.

The standards may differ according to the industry and organizational culture. I’m sure what’s acceptable dress for employees in a Manhattan bank is different from those in a suburban mall in Los Angeles. But make no mistake: for men, women, of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, your appearances will be considered when it comes to getting promoted.

No one even bothers to assess your communication skills or your thought leadership capabilities if your appearance is wrong. Of course, in the long run, the way you look isn’t nearly as important as what you say or how you act, but it’s incredibly important in the short run. You’ll need to crack the appearance code in your organization in order to open doors and be considered a worthy candidate.

So what exactly matters about your appearances? Sylvia Ann Hewlett from CTI (Center for Talent Innovation) writes in Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success that senior leaders report these five top aspects of appearance:

  1. Being polished and groomed: 35% importance for women, 38% for men
  2. Physically attractive, fit, slim: 19% for women, 16% for men
  3. Simple, stylish clothes that position you for your next job: 12% for women, 13% for men
  4. Being tall: 6% importance for women, 15% for men
  5. Being youthful and vigorous: 6% for women, 4% for men

Above all, the most important aspect of your appearance is grooming. If you look unkempt or too casual, you could imply that you don’t care enough about yourself to bother. This leads people to wonder if you approach your work with care and discipline or if you’re sloppy.

It may seem trivial, but it counts when people form first impressions. Remember the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell? Our brains size people up and form opinions based on small details.

If you want to be taken seriously as a candidate for promotion, it’s up to you to find out what the appearance standards are. It’s probably not written down anywhere, except for the restrictions. So you’ll need to become a keen observer of what people wear.

Find a mentor or coach who won’t hesitate to give you honest feedback on how you can improve your appearances.

Remember, it’s not easy for people to give good feedback on how you look. Many coworkers and supervisors are afraid to say things that might offend. So pick your mentor and peers wisely when you want to find out more about this subject.

You want feedback from someone who has your best interests at heart and who isn’t afraid to give honest advice. You’ll want to stop yourself from defending or explaining and be willing to listen with an open mind.

Not easy for anyone to do. But I’ve seen in my work coaching people that the ones who get ahead are able to get out of their comfort zones, get feedback and try some new things. Even when it means changing their style of dressing. What do you think about the importance of looks in the business world where you work? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me here or on LinkedIn.