Career Advice Tuesday – “Fashion Advice from Infosecleaders”

January 18, 2011

Dear Infosecleaders:

My question may seem simple, but I would like to have your opinion.  To give you some background, I am currently a Senior Security Architect at a large Fortune size company where I manager a team of 12 technical security architects, with various skill and in varying information security disciplines.

If you told me 20 years ago that I would be working for “The Man”, and am actually “The Man” to some of my employees I would not have believed you for a second.  However, this is now the case.  I grew up in the technical food chain, working as a systems and network admin, worked for some professional services companies providing technical security architecture services for my customers, and now I find myself in a corporate position. 

Truth be told, I like it a great deal.   However, I have one major problem….

I do not look the part.

What I mean by this is that I am not going to step from the pages of GQ any time soon.  It is a real personal chore for me to get into a suit, tie, and wingtips for senior level briefings and meetings.  Generally, my work attire is a collared shirt, khakis and some comfortable shoes, I generally wait a long time to get a haircut and have a strong desire to wear my DC and HOPE t-shirts.

Many in my company (mostly the technical team) do not have an issue with this, and they see me as one of their own.  However, when I get into those meetings with management, I stick out like a sore thumb.   You can tell, that my appearance has some effect on how they view my opinions and contributions. 

As much as I want to change this, something inside of me rejects it (and it appears every morning when I go to my closet).    Do you think it is possible for me to advance in my position by maintaining my current dress code?  If not, do you have any words of wisdom that can help me find some middle ground?

Thank you for your help,

“George Quackenbush”

Dear “GQ”:

The simple answer to your question is, “Yes, you need to play by the rules!”  If management in your company has a higher level of respect for professionals who dress like the way that “they” do, and you desire a future with the company – that includes more responsibility, promotion, and advancement, you will have to conform to the system in place.

Before I go on, I do not want for you to interpret this in a way that means you have to lose your identity, or lose some of the things that are unique to your personal presentation, however you have to recognize what elements of your professional dress are important and which ones have less meaning.  For example, upgrading your khakis to dressier pants should not be that much of an issue (in all of my time have never found a work environment that was “pants optional”).  Also, if you bring a sport jacket into work and keep in your closet, or on the back of your chair, you can always have it handy for impromptu meetings.   You may not need to wear this all of the time, like when you are working with your technical brethren, but having it available to wear during a Senior Management meeting, should not be too much of a sacrifice.  

Now, on to the big one, Your Hair!

I know that people get very sensitive about their hair, but understand that it is quite visible and constant.   I think that you may be able to get away with keeping your hair longer than the others, but you have to make sure that it is neat and not overly visible.   I think that the barometer for this is to not make it a conversation point or a distraction.  

Like it or not, your personal presentation is an important part of your career and your image.  People are judging you at all times, in your current role, in the industry, on the web, and in social settings – the key is to make sure that you portray a professional appearance that maps with your career goals and enables you to maximize your impact in your current information security role.

Hopefully we will see you “On the red carpet”!

Lee and Mike

Posted by lee | Filed Under Advice, Branding, Career Advice Tuesday, Personal 

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