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Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover - Or Should You?

By now, millions of people have seen the video of Susan Boyle, the 40 something wanna-be singer who appeared on the television show, "Britain's Got Talent". Virtually written off by both the audience and the judge, Boyle showed her singing chops by amazing the audience as soon as she started to sing. Why was she written off? Easy. Her appearance.

Audience members were shown rolling their eyes. Even the judges were clearly expecting Boyle to bomb. Her admissions that she was 'almost 48', 'lived alone with her cat, Pebbles' and 'had never been kissed' didn't appear to help the situation.

In her book, "Manners That Sell", author Lydia Ramsey discusses the importance of making a good impression:

It takes a few seconds to make a negative impression and a lifetime to overcome one.  In business, if your first impression goes badly you may not get the opportunity to make a second impression. This may not seem fair, but neither is life. 

"Meeting someone for the first time is like stepping into the spotlight.  Everything about you is intensified.  Studies show that 55% of how people judge you is based on what they see, 7% is based on the words they hear, and 35% on tone of voice...
"Before you ever open your mouth, you create an impression of yourself in the other person's mind.  You need to be impeccably groomed and look your best at all times."

In our industry, we stress the importance of appearance relentlessly with discussions on curb appeal, both for the property AND the person. And many of our industry companies have strict rules on visible tattoos, piercings, even requiring career apparel.

Each year, I teach thousands of industry professionals on leasing, marketing, management skills and more and I find the importance of appearance varies widely by generation. Boomers and Traditionalists are much more staunchly averse to multiple piercings and visible tattoos. Gen X, from my perspective, seems to be the most liberal about it. And Gen Y seems the most relaxed about dress code and job required uniforms. (And, to clarify,  I am  not disagreeing with anyone's perspective here.)

Aside from personal grooming, which I think we can all agree is important, I have a question to pose to all of you: What is appropriate appearance in our industry? Would you write off a Susan Boyle who applied for a position at your building or community? Why or why not?

 *An update here: CNN has done a follow up on Susan. Interestingly, they refer to her as a 'spinster'. Hmmm...if she was a male, wouldn't she be called a 'bachelor'? Seems like our lexicon is even biased here, doesn't it?

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

We are quickly learning that we should communicate with prospects and residents in the way that they want to be communicated with - I think the same mantra applies to appearance.

Just as our product types serve various segments of the population so should our appearance serve the various segments. In other words appear in the manner is which your consumer would want or expect you to appear. If you serve a Gen Y clientele who dress casually then your teams appearance should match. Likewise if you serve a corporate clientele.

Great post, LT.


  Mike Brewer
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Thanks for commenting, Mike. And I agree with you for the most part. But we've got many companies out there that are NOT changing their dress/appearance to match the clientele. Do you think they would be more successful if they would?

I remember when I was 16 years old, I had my ears pierced for a second time. After the salon pierced my ears, they informed me that they felt I was 'mutilating' myself and they would refuse to double pierce anyone's ears from that point on. I was ridiculed in school for having two earrings in each ear and almost didn't get a job (at a McDonald's no less) because of it. Wow, how times have changed. And I can say that while my radical piercings had absolutely no effect on my job performance, it sure had an effect on people around me.

  Lisa Trosien
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I absolutely second this! Again, our industry is a reflective one... What may work on propert A may not work on property B. However, I have seen it backfire when the appearance wasn't genuine... example of a young manager who looks like they raided their parents' closet, or a more senior manager who looks like they raided their child's.

  Tara Smiley
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Hey Tara!

I've seen that, too, and it fails. I've also shopped a very high end suburban Chicago property and had the Leasing Professional greet me, barefoot. Yes, barefoot. What was really interesting was that this particular company had just dropped their career apparel program - were the two related? Who knows.

Thanks again for the comment.

  Lisa Trosien
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

While I can not back up with real evidence - I do think a change would bring about better business. Speaking from my own experience - I like doing business with people who appear the same way I do. And, it's funny - I shop casual places when I am casually dressed and I shop professional high end places when I am dressed as such. I think there is a larger percentage of the population that shop for apartments in their comfortable stitch and to reflect that in our appearance would not be a bad thing.

On an aside, when I took my forth pierce over my right eye brow people really started to get me. ;-))

  Mike Brewer
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

The only thing I ever really have problems with is the tongue piercing. I find myself obsessing over how painful that must have been to get.

But no one has answered my question: Would you hire someone whose appearance was the same as Susan Boyle's as a Leasing Professional? (or did you answer...?)

  Lisa Trosien
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I agree with the tongue -

I have to say that your implication stings me between the ears. Let's just say I would let her audition and if she wowed me like she wowed that audience - then yes I would.

  Mike Brewer
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

This is a great topic and one I feel a company should not take lightly. I was told a long time ago by a great friend that you should dress, not for the job you have today, but the job you want in the future. This new generation with the tattoos and multiple piercings, if they were to go up against someone with the same qualification in an interview... who would have the upper hand? Expressing yourself, I understand that. It works in college, but when you enter the corporate world hopefully you were smart enough to tattoo yourself where the public can't see it and save the nose rings for the night clubs.

  Connie Cutter
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Okay... I'll be honest... Mike, as for the brow rings, why do you think I'm following you on twitter?;D
The tongue ring only gets me when it's owner is so habitually obsessed that they can't help but play with it. And then, it's not actually the tongue ring that gets me, just the adolescent attitude.
As for the real question here... For me, it all depends on how she shakes my hand. Counldn't give a twit on what she pysically looks like or how she is dressed, as long as she's hygenic.

  Tara Smiley
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Tara and Connie:

Thanks for weighing in on this.

Connie, what if the person who was tattooed and pierced was amazing in the interview?

Tara, I think what you're saying is that it doesn't matter if the person is not quite 'dressed for the part' but has a professional demeanor, you'd take them?

Correct me ladies if I am taking your wrong. I just want to make sure I'm following your comments accurately.


  Lisa Trosien
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