Are you dressing the part for the security career you want?

Michael Santarcangelo explains why attire gives an impression of your work attitude and how that can impact your security career

Michael Santarcagelo, security career catalyst

Do the clothes we wear set the stage for success or being stuck in our security careers?

Shortly after graduating college, I went for a job interview with a small, eight-person company outside of Boston. Conditioned that job interviews required a suit, tie and freshly polished shoes, I arrived dressed to impress.

Also see: Move your security career forward by looking back

Imagine my discomfort when I walked into an informal interview with a CEO wearing jeans with ripped knees and a red t-shirt. The balance of the staff was a mix of shorts, t-shirts and jeans.

I was immediately uncomfortable — and they were, too. The entire time was awkward and stressful. It was clear I wasn't a fit, and the whole time I kept thinking to myself: "How long until I get out of here?" Truth is, they were probably thinking the same thing, too.

Looking back on that uncomfortable situation, I recall vividly how my attire influenced the situation.

How does attire affect security careers?

In October, I gave the keynote at the inaugural HouSecCon and moderated an afternoon panel. The afternoon panel explored the opportunities executives and "techies/hackers" to work together more often, and more effectively.

We focused on elements of communication, presentation and how to build bridges that form effective connections.

But I sensed more.

Looking around the room — and taking in the t-shirts, collared shirts with khakis and people dressed in suits — it was entirely possible, if not always accurate, to pick out the "hackers" from the "executives."

With that context, as the host of the conversation, I paid attention to the language people used, watch how they held themselves and gauge the reaction of the crowd.

In the end, the audience agreed on the importance of more dialogue about how to work together more effectively.

On the plane ride home, with the events of the conference replaying in my mind, I realized that dressing the part for the outcome sought has a profound impact on the event, and over time, on a security career.

Sometimes the quiet space of twin aircraft engines doing their work helps put concepts in perspective. Riding home thinking about the impact attire has on events — and an entire career — I realized that on the trip to the conference, I shared an insightful conversation with a well-dressed woman that essentially proved the point.

My flight to Houston was wrought with delays and complications. While standing in line to get rebooked, a tanned, well-dressed woman approached me, tapped me on the arm and asked me about my shoes.

Both looking down, I wiggled the toes of my Vibram Five Fingers (VFF).

She smiled and told me: "I always judge a man by how he cares for his shoes." Reminded me of my upbringing — and that awkward interview from long ago.

I wasn't sure if she was insulting me, or making conversation.So I asked what my shoes told her about me.

She quickly responded, with a smile, that the way I was dressed — blue jeans, oxford and blazer — was entirely appropriate, and that she LOVED my shoes. She made a point to tell me I was okay.

Even now, I realize she was right. A lot of people approach me to talk about my VFFs when I wear them, but I only wore them to a client meeting one time. And while it went okay, I decided that was the last time.

The whole chain of events and memory of the past serves as a reminder that our attire influences what people think and how they act around us.

And it influences how we think and act, too.

Perhaps advancing a security career requires dressing the part, too.

So what are you wearing? What does it say about you? And how is it impacting your security career?

About Michael Santarcangelo: The author of Into the Breach and creator of Awareness that Works, Michael Santarcangelo is a catalyst that advocates for individuals while advancing organizations. By connecting individuals to the consequences of their actions, he delivers results that reduce risk, increase resiliency and allow organizations to more with less. Learn more at www.securitycatalyst.com or engage with him on twitter.com/catalyst.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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