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What is a Professional Image?

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The education job market is becoming increasingly difficult in these tough economic times. So what can you, as a candidate, do to be remembered? My advice is to start by looking in the mirror and at the way you communicate. These are the first impressions that administrators, parents and students will get of you and how they will remember you.

Actually, you started building your professional image as a student with your professors, academic advisors, and peers. If I were to ask your academic advisor or program coordinator to describe you, what would they say? How did you interact and appear when you participated in that first clinical experience? Would the staff at the school or your clinical supervisor describe you as a professional?

What is a professional image?
• A set of qualities and characteristics that represent perceptions of your
competence and character as judged by both influencers and peers
• The image you project in both a professional (classroom) and non-professional
(grocery store) environment
• What I will remember about you, since you are the message
• A lasting first impression - you begin making an impression before you even speak

What makes up your image?

What you write - written and electronic communications
o Perfect your writing skills
o Manage your online image (Google yourself, clean up Facebook)
o Check your voicemail: professional, not "What's Up?" or "Hey!"
o Watch your email/texting: professional address, content, grammar, spelling - even
with SmartPhones that check and correct information as you type it needs to be

What you say - professional etiquette
o Conduct yourself in an ethical manner
o Respect the organization and its rules
o Never say bad things about your colleagues or your employer or your university
o Practice your introduction and handshake
o Remember that you are the message and the product

What you do - attitude
o Avoid negativity
o Listen and learn
o Seek out opportunities to be visible - volunteer, take a risk
o Follow through - accomplish what you say you will do
o Be unique, irresistible and enthusiastic
o Shine! Use your strengths
o Smile!

How you look - looks matter both on and off the job
o First impression is always visual
o Sloppy dress = sloppy work; inappropriate appearance = questionable behavior
o Good grooming - neat, clean, pressed (yes, use an iron)
o Think of the competition
o Dress for the industry or position you are aspiring to attain; better to be more
formal than under-dressed
o Develop a signature style? - a color, tie/scarf pattern, piece of jewelry
o Don't distract from your message....that you are a qualified candidate!

Who you know - network
o Surround yourself with successful and helpful people; this may mean leaving old
friends behind
o Talk to everyone; it is not WHO you know but who knows YOU
o Project the image of a confident communicator
o Keep in mind that you are remembered and judged by who you associate/ hang
out with

Your communication skills and the image you present create the first impression - often the lasting impression - on the people you meet.

It is never too late to reflect and change directions to build your professional image.
What do you see in your professional mirror?

Phyl Naffziger
Career Counselor
Northern Illinois University

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