5 Appearance Mishaps that can Hurt Your Career (that no one tells you about!)

We’ve all been there. Before a job interview or performance, you spill coffee on yourself, your hair gets messed up, or your music is missing. And because you’ve been there before, you know how to quickly remedy the situation and put your best foot forward, before anyone is the wiser.

But what about those unknown mishaps, that can potentially be offensive? And if they’re unknown, how can you fix them?

Well, I’ve been there. And I’m here to tell you so you don’t make my (or any of my colleagues’) mistakes.

Let’s start with the easy ones.

1. Your Car: You may think no one will see your car or its contents. However, like your business suit or evening gown, your vehicle could very well be the first thing people will notice about you. Now I’m not saying you need to drive a Mercedes – the type of car you drive doesn’t matter. It’s how you take care of it. I once worked for a very wealthy family in Los Angeles who enjoyed hosting intimate chamber music concerts in their home and invited their similarly wealthy friends. One of the musicians in attendance parked his car on their very fancy driveway, which was fine, except that the car looked like he had been physically living in it. It was dirty, and the interior was laden with fast food trash, spare shoes, receipts, you name it. The hosts were embarrassed to have this car in their driveway, as every guest noticed it and pointed it out before entering their home. This musician was not brought back, and while their guests found the car to be comical, I doubt any of them wanted this guy’s information for future opportunities.

Similarly, you may need to drive someone important after the event or interview. You just never know. Especially if you’re in a position to network or impress.

The Fix: Clean out and vacuum your car regularly. Take it through the car wash or take 15 minutes with some soap and water.

*Special Note: Also, be mindful of any bumper stickers, license plate frames, or vanity plates. Yes, it’s great to save the planet and have honor roll kids, but HORNHUGZ8 license plate forces people to focus less on your talents and more on your personality. Which they may or may not like. Less is more.

2. Added “Accessories”: You look great and you’re ready. You arrive on time, which is actually a few minutes late because you haven’t checked the equipment yet, but you know your colleagues won’t be bothered – but, you know what will bother your colleagues? That Starbucks Latte in your hand. You are now telling them that while you didn’t have enough time to arrive early to check the equipment, you had enough time to wait 10 minutes for your $8 coffee.

I’ve made this mistake before. I didn’t think that my on-time arrival with the telltale Starbucks branded coffee would be insulting to the hosts and my peers (I just needed my coffee!), but it was. And they let me know.

The Fix: Unless you have enough time to bring lattes for everyone (on time is late!), skip the coffee, snacks, and fast food before the event.

3. Your Frequency: So, you booked a gig! Yay! You are super excited. But you have so many questions and concerns. You write an email to the host/presenter. And then you think of more questions, so you write another email. Oh! And one more thing, so another email. Unless you are a dear friend or family, no one likes to see 3+ emails from the same person in their inbox. Similarly, multiple emails leading up to the event with multiple questions (or – gasp! – the same questions!) will also be considered a nuisance.

Your time and talents are valuable, so you want to make certain you get it right – but, other people’s time is equally valuable. No one wants to answer multiple communications with different questions or even worse, responding to concerns that have already been answered in previous emails.

The Fix: Be thoughtful and considerate of the amount of communication (whether it’s texts or emails) you are sending. Try to compile all questions or concerns you may have for one email. There is a fine line between being prepared and being annoying.

4. Your Opinion: Ugh, the acoustics at this venue are awful. This guy doesn’t know his music. Can you believe that dude is running for president again? What an idiot! We all have a lot of thoughts that run through our minds at any given time, but as soon as you offer an opinion that has nothing to do with you, it alters how others will view you. We want people to view us for our abilities, skills, and talents – and not for our political preferences, lifestyle choices, or personal thoughts. As soon as they view you for your opinion as opposed to your talent, you have sealed your fate – they will love you or dislike you for it, and you can’t take it back.

I’ve made this mistake many times. I still make this mistake, as I love being personable and crave connections. But unless you will be returning to that venue many, many times (and concurrently get to know staff very well), it’s important to try to keep these thoughts to yourself. Don’t get me wrong, you want to be memorable, but you want to be memorable for the reasons you were hired (i.e. your skills and talents). Beyond that, there is an artform in being unmemorable.

The Fix: Maintain a positive demeanor, with confidence and poise. Be professional, and don’t offer an opinion about anything – unless asked (and even then, tread lightly!).

5. Your Tone: This one is tricky, and is wrapped up with Mishap #4. Crafting an appropriate and polite tone in your communications when you are actually annoyed is hard. I had a musician send me an email that said “when can I expect to get paid?” Now, maybe he meant to sound like a jerk or maybe I’m reading into it. But if he had phrased the email with “when will you be sending payments?” then I wouldn’t have wondered if he had an attitude about being paid. I had another musician write me “I don’t mean to be an ass, but…” If you say you don’t mean to be an a$$, well guess what, you’ve already taken that leap. You are one.

You may have a feeling or opinion about the presenter/company, but it’s important not to let that come through in your communications. You may not want to work for them again, and that’s ok, but you also won’t work for anyone else they know either if your tone has negative connotations.

The Fix: Always be upbeat and grateful in all communications. A little patience and a lot of thank you goes a long way.

I present these 5 Appearance Mishaps to you as I truly wish someone would’ve pointed them out to me when I was much younger in my career, kind of like plucking my eyebrows or how to shake someone’s hand (firm, but not painful!). These Mishaps could make or break you, and may seem very obvious to some, but they certainly weren’t obvious to me. We want to set you up for success. Believe it or not, sometimes that success starts with a simple car wash.

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