Whether you want to advance to a better administrative job or get more meaningful work and recognition in your current one, it pays to present yourself as someone a few rungs higher on the corporate ladder. Here are some tips for developing executive style, no matter what your position on the org chart.
Focus Your Look from Top to Bottom
“A well-groomed professional is polished, with hair done and -- believe it or not -- a great pair of shoes,” says celebrity stylist Billy Lowe of Los Angeles. “A nice polished shoe means you have a solid foundation and an assuredness in who you are.” This is important even in a casual workplace.
But shoes and haircuts can be pricey. “There are creative ways to look your very best without breaking the bank,” Lowe says. “Watch for promotions at department stores, and take advantage of two-for offers. Ask if your salon has a referral program where you receive salon bucks for clients you send to them.” Skipping the blow dry also can save money.
Develop a Versatile Wardrobe
A common mistake is not looking at your wardrobe as a cohesive unit, says Karen Antle, a fashion consultant based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
“All pieces should work together,” Antle says. Pick one or two colors for your major items, and purchase accessories or shirts and blouses in complementary colors. “That way, most of your tops will go with most of your bottoms, and you will avoid the dreaded morning closet stare down.”
A good shirt and a nice year-round suit are staples of the executive look. “A crisp, wrinkle-free white shirt is a classic.” Antle says. “A dark suit is a wonderful investment. In a conservative work environment, it will be the mainstay of your wardrobe, worn at least once a week. It can be dressed down with a nice T-shirt or sweater, or the pieces can be worn separately.”
Talk a Better Game
To sound more authoritative and confident, drop placeholder words such as “um,” “you know” and “like,” advises Kirby Tepper, president of American Public Speaking Training in Los Angeles. “When people use those words, they start to sound repetitive and unimaginative,” he explains.
The best way to avoid placeholder phrases? Slow down and bring awareness to what you’re saying. And the same goes if you find yourself using any word too often.
Overusing placeholders gets worse when we’re nervous. “The more we try to impress, the more obvious it is,” Tepper says. “Recognize that getting tongue-tied may not be unavoidable. That freedom allows you not to be perfect or incredibly impressive. Remind yourself that you’re only human, and so is that high-ranking exec who, by the way, was a low-ranking exec at one time.”
Think Like an Exec
Senior managers feel important, but many admins don’t. “Instead of feeling irrelevant or that your work is minimal, change your mind-set to positive,” advises Jamie Yasko-Mangum, president of Successful Style & Image, a consulting firm in Casselberry, Florida. “Visualize and then demonstrate yourself as a leader and team player who gets results.”
To get started, arrive a few minutes early to get organized and determine the day’s most important or urgent tasks. “Then ask for more responsibility and take pride in your work so your boss notices your effort,” Yasko-Mangum says. “When you produce results, you earn credibility.”
See the Value in Appearances
It may seem like a lot of work, but the results speak for themselves, says Christine Hood, a legal assistant with Poyner Spruill LLP, a corporate law firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina. “Looking like and behaving like a professional has helped me greatly,” she says. “Employers look at your demeanor when considering hiring and advancement. I have been given greater opportunities for advancement, and I believe it’s my professional attitude that’s made it possible.”
For more information and tips to help you advance your administrative career, see all our advice for admin professionals.