Imagine I’m writing this column in a spacious office decorated with tasteful photos of my family, my college diplomas on the wall, and wearing a pin-striped “power suit.” You’d probably pay closer attention, or at least assume I know what I’m talking about, right?

Now for the reality check. I’m actually writing this from my home computer while wearing a pair of worn-in jeans and a t-shirt. One of my cats is lying atop the dining room table that doubles as my home office, and children’s toys are strewn about my feet. Changes your perspective on things, doesn’t it?

While reporters aren’t out to impress sources (although we do try to clean up for conferences and business events), accountants and their firms need to impress every prospect, client, vendor and colleague they come into contact with.

One of my favorite advertising tag lines is “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It may not be the most effective advertising vehicle (for the life of me I can’t remember what product or service was being pushed), but it makes a valid point. Your personal appearance and how you carry yourself speaks volumes about you – and creates a initial picture in your contact’s mind that might not ever be altered. So you want to make sure that first contact is a good one.

Dressing for success isn’t something to be taken lightly and it’s not easy for everyone to do. While men may think an off-the-rack, un-altered suit and bargain tie will do just fine, I can assure you, it won’t. If you’re seeking someone’s business, you need to look like you’re a success, too. Nobody wants to do business with a loser. And there’s a reason why a popular joke about the profession asks, “How do you know you’re an accountant? Nobody ever says, ‘Nice tie.’”

Women have it even harder. Overly heavy makeup, an unprofessional haircut or too-casual outfit can send all kinds of wrong messages. A professional wardrobe and detailed personal grooming will go a long way to helping women climb the partner track at work and make a good impression in the marketplace.

There is good news. Over the past decade, many companies have instituted casual dress codes. This is a boon for accountants. By dressing sharply yet conservatively, you’ll stand out and leave the impression that what you’re selling or doing is too important a job to be done by someone in Dockers and a sports shirt.

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