* This post was originally featured on the Nerd for a Living blog.
Finding your professional voice, attitude, demeanor, and style can be difficult – especially when you want to be authentic to yourself. The conventional notions of professionalism often feel stifling, and may tend to turn a lot of nerdy people off. It doesn’t help matters that, if you’re just starting out with a new job search or career, you may have to invest in clothes you might not feel comfortable in – attempting to exist in a professional world that is foreign to you.
Even if you’re someone who has worked professionally for a long time, these things often aren’t talked about head-on. You have to try to figure it all out on your own. This can lead to frustrating results, such as not being well-integrated into a team because you don’t know the dress code expectations or communication preferences.
I hope to convey a few simple concepts that will help you be the proud geek (or nerd) you are while still being professional in your workplace.
How people dress actually carries a good deal of impact in the workplace. It embodies the culture of the office, and (for better or worse) is how you make a first impression on people. How you dress reflects on your work priorities. It may be advisable to follow your colleagues’ lead, at least at first. Adapting your professional wardrobe to fit the general appearance of your peers can help you avoid attention for the wrong reasons.
You might like to showcase your geeky interests with your wardrobe, letting your nerd flag fly and expressing your personality. That’s awesome, but be careful not to go overboard, particularly in a new environment. Sometimes a subtle touch is best, with something like a lapel pin or necklace, or incorporation of an understated tie, socks, or tights into your outfit. Depending on your workplace, you may be able to get away with more casual clothing. Just make sure you look clean, presentable, and wear clothes which make you feel confident – it sends a message that you have put in the effort to look professional when you come into work.
As time goes and you’ve established your workplace persona and reputation, you can evolve your look and personal presentation to closer reflect your personality and taste.
Attitude & Demeanor
How you deal with people is a crucial part of your professional identity. Whether with customers or colleagues, you need to be able to speak to people in a respectful way that properly conveys your intended message. Some people may believe that being “authentic” means having “no filter”, but you can be yourself and still have the self-awareness of what you should and shouldn’t say to people.
Your nonverbal gestures add emphasis and nuance to what you do say. Be mindful of your posture, facial responses, and just generally behave positively towards other people. Remember to treat co-workers and patrons as you would like to be treated, and try to exhibit the enthusiasm you bring to your favorite geekdom to your interactions at your workplace.
We end up spending a lot of time in our offices, and I love seeing how people decorate and personalize their working spaces. It’s important to me to have a comfortable space that can foster genuine connections with those who come in. I have a bunch of geeky stuff adorning my walls, and have had numerous people come by who see something they recognize. A moment of mutual adoration for that shared passion can help create connections that may later facilitate our working relationship. Rather than having to try to form connections with no context, we instantly know a bit about each other whenever someone comes into my office.
This seems like the most natural pathway for us to bring our geeky interests into our workplace in a professional way. Empty cubical walls and shelf space are a blank canvas for fun toys, posters, and trinkets that allow for authentic bonds to be created everyday. Most supervisors won’t have a problem with people bringing in some fun personal items to spruce up their workspaces, but if you don’t see anyone else with personal items in their workspaces, it may be wise to ask just in case.
Ultimately, while it may seem like a buzzkill for many geeks and nerds to exist in a “stiff” professional workplace, I submit that you can bring your genuine enthusiasm into your work in a positive way each day – and make a world of difference for you, your colleagues, and your customers.