In a recent blog post, I shared my career path which included a fruitless job search a few years back. During that search, I gave my LinkedIn profile some much needed love and attention. I uploaded a new headshot that whispered, “Look how approachable and competent I am. Wouldn’t you like to interview me?”
I also scoured free digital photo libraries for a background picture to add some pizzazz. Most of the images left me uninspired. They looked better suited for inspirational posters hung on the walls of H&R Block in a generic office park.
Then I found a photo of colorful sequins scattered in a joyful pile of glitteriness. Yes, please!
When I sent it to a friend, so he could help me size it, he asked if I was sure it was the right image. While it may be a great choice for a creative director or a designer, he explained, I was searching for a chief of staff role supporting a senior executive at a global company. Perhaps it would send the wrong message: like showing up at church in a crop top. (He didn’t say that last part.)
We had a negotiation about whether I should use it or not. I was too attached to give in, so we compromised. He blurred the image using Photoshop, so it was less blingy than the original. We hoped this version would be more palatable to buttoned-up, corporate types.
It didn’t work because I didn’t get a job. Is it unfair to blame my LinkedIn background image? Hard to say, but something was definitely off, like when you misbutton your coat; it still keeps you warm, but it doesn’t look right. Either way, I’m grateful the story ended as it did because the failed job search is why I launched my own leadership and career coaching practice.
There are many aspects of my new career that I love. One of my favorites is that I get to do things my way. Now I can spread glittery sequins with abandon. Take business development as an example: For me, it’s not about sending marketing emails to strangers who perceive them—not as something shiny—but as junk to be dragged to the digital trash can.
Instead, I reach out to people with whom I have a shared history. I hear what they’ve been doing, tell them about my new endeavor, and ask if they know anyone who could benefit from the services that I offer. Sometimes we reminisce about snowy days when we grabbed cookie trays from the office kitchen to go sledding at lunch. What would have been considered goofing off in another job is now an essential part of my daily responsibilities.
I recently reconnected with the woman who hired me for my first professional job. I hadn’t even turned 22 when I showed up for the interview. As we chatted, my former boss shared her first impression of me. She remembered that I wore a black and white checkered suit with yellow accents and a yellow headband to tame my mass of curls. While I was flattered that she remembered our encounter in so much detail, I felt a little embarrassed hearing her account nearly three decades later. “Why wouldn’t I have made a safer choice?” I thought. (Cue an Ann Taylor navy blue suit.)
Unaware of the sidebar conversation in my head, she went on to explain that part of what drove her to hire me was how I presented myself. She wanted to onboard energetic and enthusiastic people to the team, and in addition to my personality, my outfit signaled those traits. I got the job, and it was a career highlight.
Looking back, I see that I landed in a company culture that was best suited to me when I showed up in my own suit—not an off-the-rack Ann Taylor but one with sunshine yellow details and shoulder pads. (Hey, it was the ‘90s!) I had not yet learned to tone myself down to appear more “corporate,” and the more I did, the more unhappy I was.
If I had known this story during my last job search, maybe I wouldn’t have tried to appeal to people who are scared off by shiny things. Instead, maybe I would have waited for someone who wanted to dive into a joyful pile of glitteriness with me.
I’m no longer willing to dull my sparkle in my work or in my life. So I ask: What have you been editing to make an impression? Maybe you should hold out for the person who appreciates the original.