By Jason Warner — One of my direct reports told me I’m wearing VP shoes. Apparently, my Eccos are the most popular shoe brand among vice presidents at Google.

It’s not surprising that I dress like a VP. Because dressing like what you want to become is an important part of an overall career strategy. What surprises me is how many professionals don’t recognize this or simply choose to ignore it.

But it’s not as simple as dressing for success. This is one of those times where too much or too little can make all the difference. The key to dressing like that which you want to become is to only do it 75%. If you go overboard, you’ll distance yourself from your peers, which is why the discussion about VP shoes threw me. I never want to distance myself from the people on my team. You have to be careful about this.

Here are some guidelines you should follow.

1. Don’t look like you’re trying too hard.
It is part of our corporate culture that you don’t have to dress up to be serious, but the groups I support are sales and operations, and they all dress in a business casual. They wear nice slacks or khakis, nice shoes but they wear quality clothing. So I choose to dress like them and buy nice stuff. I try and invest in nice shoes and belts, and also nice quality shirts. You can get away with buying inexpensive pants — Dockers, for example.

2. Don’t put yourself on the wrong side of the middle.
I see lots of people screw this one up. They see that some of those above them dress casually, so then they choose to dress casually. If you choose to dress like those above you, aim for the right side of the bell curve and dress like the successful people. If everyone dresses casually, then you are on your own, but I’ve found that there’s usually at least a light correlation between the best dressers and the best performers.

3. Don’t dress more than 30% above your level.
Okay, so some of you can swing the Rolex watch in your first job out of college, and to you I say, “Great choice in parents”. For the rest of us, the fastest way to distance yourself from peers and those above you is to overdress the part. It creates awkwardness all the way around. The CEO doesn’t want to see you wearing the same watch she does, nor does your counterpart in the next cube who has been with the company twice as long as you. It’s okay to step it up a little, but show some restraint. It is best to be slightly more done out than your cube-mates.

After all of this, I do have to admit that my new career experience at Google (week six as I write this) has got me a little wrapped around the axle however, as the vast majority of Google employees simply wear jeans and t-shirts to work. And those really bad boots — I think they call them Uggs. So now I’m thinking I may have to adjust my strategy some in this new world of work that is filled with Generation Y.

On this, and my VP shoes, I will keep you posted.

 

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