Dear J.T. & Dale: I was hired last year, along with several other people. We all work in a department that is expanding quickly. I’d really like to get a promotion, so I reached out to my boss and asked what I might be able to do to better position myself for one. She gave me some suggestions, but one really threw me: Dress better. We’re a casual office, so I’ve always worn jeans, like everyone else. She said everyone in management dresses to reflect their position. I bought some nice clothes, but when I started wearing them, my peers began making fun of me. So I went back to the jeans. Suggestions? — Tyler
J.T.: There’s a saying in the business world that I bet your boss used: “Dress for the job you want, not the one you are in.” Your appearance matters because, as the great Doris Day once said, “People hear what they see.” When you dress more professionally, you are implying that you care about the direction your career is going in.
DALE: To get promoted, company executives need to be able to see you as one of them. The “see” in that sentence is much more than outward appearances. For example, you also need to “READ for the job you want, not the one you’re in.” That way, you can talk with managers about the issues that are important to them. My point? As you prepare to move up, you need to start rethinking who your peers really are.
J.T.: As for the teasing, it just means that those people are not ready to move forward. So I suggest that you go back to your nicer wardrobe and get used to the ribbing.
DALE: Meanwhile, you need to go to your managers and ask how you can help them. Begin to take on pieces of their jobs. In effect, you’ll be creating your own management training program. Your co-workers will call you a kiss-up and worse, but just smile and say, “I’m just trying to help the team — how am I doing?” Soon you’ll be leading teams.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I’m on a new diet, and it’s very strict. My department goes out to lunch together (my boss pays) once a week. Not a single place we go to has anything on the menu that I can eat. I don’t want to sit there and not eat, but I can’t bring my diet food with me. What should I do? — Eve
DALE: Because you didn’t mention a medical condition, I’m going to assume that this is a weight-loss diet. One that doesn’t allow you to eat any of the food at any restaurant is not going to be sustainable, and thus is doomed. Therefore, I hereby give you permission to go wild and eat one restaurant salad a week. Enjoy.
J.T.: No. I’ll assume that you are committed to your diet program and that it is important to you. So grab your boss for a private meeting and tell him about the new diet, then say something like: “I wanted to tell you this in confidence because I am concerned about how it will look when we go to the team luncheon and I don’t order anything. Would it be OK if I skipped the lunch?”
DALE: What? You can’t skip the team lunch. It’s not about lunch; it’s about the team.
J.T.: Hold on. I’m getting there. My plan is this: Your willingness to miss the lunch should open up a dialogue with your boss. Maybe he’ll offer to order food into the office so you can eat your own. Or, he may ask what types of restaurants you can go to.
I’m sure he’ll want to support you and figure out a way that you can join in without making it uncomfortable for you or the team.