Gerri Willis Commentary:
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Be your best at work
5 Tips: How to polish your corporate image.
By Gerri Willis, contributing columnist

NEW YORK ( - Most of us will be lounging about in our PJs this morning on account of the holiday. And that makes it a perfect time to give ourselves a corporate makeover.

In today's top Five Tips we're going to tell you how you can polish your corporate image.

1. Dress the part

The workplace has become more casual, thanks in part to the dot-com era. But that's slowly changing, says Marion Gellatly of the Association of Image Consultants International. We're becoming just a bit more formal. Jeans are out. Guys, ditch the baggy sweatshirts and basketball jerseys in favor of a sharp shirt and dressy chinos. For women, the key words are dark, fitted and patterned.

"A pattern really strengthens the look," she says. If you need to tone down your image, wear lighter colors, like pink. But if you want to convey excitement and confidence, your color is red.

Cologne or perfume is definitely out for men and women. But ladies the good news is you can ditch the high heels. Other shoes can make you look just as professional.

When it comes to maintaining appearances, you'll want to make sure you look neat and clean. Draw attention to your facial expressions, not your facial hair. Men tend to let their eyebrows get bushy, says Gellatly.

Everyone should keep their hair off their face. Women may want to reconsider putting their hair in a ponytail at work. It may make you seem younger than you want to be.

2. Know the art of the voicemail

To enhance your voicemail skills, try talking more slowly. And keep it short. Keep the message under 10 seconds, advises Ed Barks of Barks Communications.

Give your number twice. And don't be too chummy with people, says Stephanie Jo Klein of Klein Creative Communications. Using nicknames or informal greetings are a big turnoff she says.

The worst offenders are people who sound monotonous and boring -- like robots. "I won't even listen to the message," she says. "I'll delete it."

3. Leave out the smiley faces

E-mail and instant messaging services now dominate corporate life. Barks says e-mail has gotten too familiar and that isn't helping your professional image. If you do send e-mail, leave out the smiley faces, says's Heather Rocha. "You're in an office. You should be more formal."

And while it may seem tempting, keep those forwarded jokes to yourself. Like voicemails, e-mails should be straight to the point, so don't attach a large number of documents to the e-mail unless you're asked to.

4. So, about that cold front...

The art of small talk is not easy to master, but if you can, it will improve your likability factor tremendously. The key is to appear more interested than interesting. And the best way to break the ice is to ask an open ended question. People love to talk about themselves.

The best topics to address are sports, weather and travel. Don't bring up any health issues or gossip. When you strike up a conversation, make sure you are listening to what the other person is saying. Nod or indicate other body language that would encourage the person to continue their story.

5. Keep it clean

Corporate image is not only about how you look and act. It's about what your workspace looks like. You'll want to portray an image of diligent worker, so lose the menagerie of stuffed animals. You may want make sure your pictures don't seem inappropriate.

And while you want your desk to look neat, you also want to make sure there's enough clutter to indicate how hard-working you are.


Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to 5tips@cnn.comTop of page

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