A Cheat Sheet for Looking Professional Online


Normally I post about much more serious things, but today I’m going to post about the fine art of being as comfortable as possible while still looking professional when you work online (aka: How to wear sweatpants and t-shirts every day, but still look like you are fully dressed for battle at the drop of a hat.)

I may be shattering some illusions here, but here goes.  I work exclusively from home, and I teach and have meetings over a webcam.  I also have a toddler.  So that means I’m not getting dressed in silk blouses, wool suits, and heels every day.  On days when I’m in my office all day, I get dressed professionally.  But the rest of the time, I’m constantly switching back and forth.  I need to be applesauce and finger paint ready, and also meeting with the Dean ready at any moment.  So, what’s a hardworking professor-mom to do?

Just wear the yoga pants and the tank top.  Or the sweatpants and the t-shirt.  Or the pajamas.  That way you can get mud on your pants or poop in your hair, and it’s no big deal.

But here’s what you’re also going to do.  You’re going to make yourself a little go-shelf of stuff in your home office, or on your desk, or wherever you do all your work.  Because I guarantee you at some point you will be sitting there on a day you didn’t plan on being on a webcam, looking like a mess and grading some papers, and someone is going to request a meeting right now.  You need easy solutions at hand.

Here’s what’s on or near my go-shelf.

1. A dress shirt or a scarf. Toss the dress shirt or scarf on over your t-shirt or whatever else you’re wearing.

2. A couple of blazers.  Throw on one of these on top of your dress shirt or scarf.

3. A hair tie and/or hair refresher and a comb.  You can buy the hair refresher or you can make it (I put a few drops of lavender oil in a spray bottle with some water).  If you have longer hair, twist it up in a hair tie, and use the refresher to smooth down any flyaways.  If you have shorter hair, use the refresher to slick hair back or smooth it down.

4. Glasses. I wear reading glasses, and I always wear them when I’m online – not just because I need them, but because they hide the bags under my eyes and keep me from having to do eye makeup.  Glasses hide a lot, and instantly make you look more put together.  And like it or not, people do tend to think that people wearing glasses are more intelligent.  Bonus!  If you don’t wear glasses, you can always grab a pair of plainos if you like that look.

5. Something extra.  Maybe it’s red lipstick.  Maybe it’s a pocket square.  Maybe it’s a piece of statement jewelry.  When you’re online, it’s good to have one or two defining features that you wear every single time.  I wear red lipstick every time I’m teaching or in a meeting, for example, and I notice that when I eventually meet students in person at commencement, they recognize me much easier when I’ve got that red lipstick on.  It’s harder to really learn someone’s facial features from a little square image, so a cue like that is really helpful.

So, I get an email asking if I can drop into a quick online meeting in 5 minutes.  I toss on my scarf, pull on my blazer, tame my hair, don my glasses on the off chance I’m not already wearing them, and put that red lipstick on. It takes maybe 3 minutes total, and that’s if I’m going slowly.

Now here’s where I get a bit preachy.  Why do I see students showing up to classes in pajamas?  Why can I see the holes in your shirt?  If you’re a student, trust me when I say that your professors notice.  Even online, I take note of when someone shows up to class looking professional versus when someone shows up looking like they just rolled out of bed.  Some of them have!  But that extra few minutes is so worth it to make a better impression on your peers and your instructors.

photo credit: mayeesherr. via photopin cc

Published by Dr. Corinne Hyde

I'm an Assistant Teaching Professor of Clinical Education at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education. My research focuses on faculty adaptation to online learning, synchronous virtual classrooms, and the intersection of learning theory and technology. I teach mostly learning theory and technology/new media literacy courses to graduate students. Prior to becoming a professor, I was a classroom teacher in a high needs school in Los Angeles, a private educational administrator, a community preschool teacher, and a behavior interventionist. I hold a B.S. in Elementary Education from The University of Central Florida, and a M.S.Ed. in Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, with a focus in Educational Psychology, from the University of Southern California. I have been certified as a classroom teacher in FL, CA, and LA, and I hold administration and ELD certifications in California and Louisiana. I currently live in Louisiana with my husband, my daughter, and my 3 dogs.

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