Now that the weather has turned hot, we are faced with the mixed blessing of more relaxed dress codes at work.
Even firms that don't generally favor casual dress often allow it during the summer, at least on certain days. When dress is casual, knowing what to wear is not always easy, and mistakes can affect your career.
For example, one warm summer day when C.B. Bowman of North Plainfield was the director of learning and development for a New Jersey-based insurance agency, one of her employees showed up for work in a dress that left little to the imagination. Despite the company's dress code, the employee saw nothing wrong with the outfit because it was an extremely hot and humid day.
Bowman said she sent the employee home to change, pointing out the office was air-conditioned. The employee was eventually fired for other reasons, but Bowman said she thinks this incident served to reinforce the general perception this employee wasn't a good fit for the job.
While rarely does wearing the wrong outfit to work result in being fired, how a person dresses can have a major effect on whether or not he or she is promoted. To be viewed as someone on the fast track to success, one needs to look the part, and not just in the winter, but in the summer as well.
"Management is continuously sizing people up for the next promotion," said Vicky Ribon, Team Manager in charge of the Florham Park office of Administaff, a national human resources outsourcing firm. Potential leaders are judged "not only on their knowledge and skills, but also on their presentation." So always pay attention to the image you project.
Here are some tips for dressing to impress where summer business casual is the norm:
For women, "a summer dress is always appropriate as long as it is not too revealing." Tasteful skirts or pants with blouses also can convey the right image.
As Bedminster-based Dory Devlin, work and money editor for Yahoo Shine and a former Star-Ledger columnist, notes: "It is hard to know the rules, because they are constantly changing as we become increasingly more casual, but there are still some definite office attire don'ts."
You don't want your boss picturing you in a thong bikini when he or she is deciding who to promote. At a summer get-together, sandals and sneakers have their place, but leave the ripped T-shirts and jeans at home.
"Think carefully before you wear your favorite T-shirt with the funny or risqué saying emblazoned across the front," Hoffs cautioned. "Not everyone will share your sense of humor."
The image you present at work is something that should not be left to chance. Every day, individuals miss out on career opportunities because they do not project the right image. Decision-makers, consciously or subconsciously, often consider whether someone looks the part when deciding whether to hire or promote them. The impressions you make during the summer are no less important than those you make during the winter months.
A veteran human resources executive, Lee E. Miller is the author of "UP: Influence Power and the U Perspective -- The Art of Getting What You Want," and the co-founder of YourCareerDoctors.com, a website devoted to career success. Mail questions to Lee@YourCareerDoctors.com.