Last week I bought a single bar of soap for $14 and I didn’t blink an eye. I know $14 is a silly amount of money to pay for one teensy bar of soap, I just didn’t care. Why? It was pretty.
It was wrapped in ivory paper with an old timey serif font printed in cornmeal blue ink. And the piece de resistance? A little piece of red and white bakers twine tied around the middle for no reason in particular except that it’s cute.
I love beautifully designed things, and there are A LOT of people out there like me – people who appreciate aesthetics, and factor it into their decision-making. Which makes sense for clothing and décor and things you actually see on a regular basis. But soap? I unwrapped that sucker the minute I got home and all of that pretty packaging ended up in the recycle bin. But that didn’t matter. Because I already decided how I felt about the soap when I bought it. And therein lies the magic.
This isn’t about a bar of soap; it’s about your career.
All the visual stuff? It matters for your career. It matters a lot. Because it’s your first chance to make an impression. Without even intending to, people will decide how they feel about you based on a few visual cues.
Your LinkedIn profile picture – is it a professional headshot or an out of focus weekend selfie?
Your resume – is it exquisitely formatted, with readable fonts, sub-headings, and lots of white space, or does it look like it was typed up by a drunk gerbil who was pressed for time?
Your body language during a meeting – are you engaged or are you leaning out, yawning and playing with your phone?
Your interview outfit – do you look professional or are you wearing something you wore to the club last weekend? Something too small? Heels you can’t actually walk in? A rumpled shirt?
Making snap judgments about something or someone based on aesthetics or appearance isn’t always fair or right (especially in a work context), but it happens. And we all do it. That’s how humans are built. Might as well do yourself a favor and be intentional about the visual cues you’re signaling as you navigate your career, because that stuff is making an impression.
Things like your social media profiles, document design, body language, and your interview appearance might matter more than you think they do.
Other things matter too, of course. Experience, for one thing. Skills, for another. And certainly the quality of your work. Hopefully the quality of your work is exceptional. The quality of your work is what matters the most in your career, more than anything else. But here’s the thing: while quality and substance matter the most, the visual stuff matters first. It matters before quality, because that’s where a first impression is formed.
Work for yourself? You’re not off the hook. This visual stuff matters just as much for you.
Take your business website, for example. It needs to be beautifully designed, both aesthetically and functionally. Everybody knows this. You know this. And yet, there are so many websites that are terribly designed.
I can’t tell you the number of businesses I’ve bailed on because their website looked ghetto – like it was made in 1999 or designed by a small animal. There I was, ready to spend my money, but my confidence was shot the minute I landed on their homepage. On to greener pastures I went.
Your website is a visual representation of you and your business. It’s where people land after a Google search, or a link from an article, or a click from social media. It’s often the very first point of contact, and people use that information to help them decide if they’ll subscribe, make a purchase, or contact you about working together. It’s your one chance to make a first impression and you don’t want someone to lose their confidence in you before they even get to know you.
Other things matter too – copy, usability, the quality of your product or service. But again, while quality matters the most, design matters first.
For better or worse, design signals quality. Show someone good design and maybe they’ll stick around long enough to see if your product or service can back it up. Show them crappy design and buh-bye. If someone bails because your website is outdated or ugly or clunky or not intuitive, you’ll never even have the chance to show them the quality of your work.
Look at yourself and your work with fresh eyes. You might be surprised by what you see.