Ready to turbocharge your career? Download your free copy of the “3 Steps of Self-Mastery” Toolkit

Pile of colorful sequins

Dulling My Sparkle to Brighten My Prospects

In a recent blog post, I shared my career path which included a fruitless job search a few years back. During that search, I gave my LinkedIn profile some much needed love and attention. I uploaded a new headshot that whispered, “Look how approachable and competent I am. Wouldn’t you like to interview me?” 

I also scoured free digital photo libraries for a background picture to add some pizzazz. Most of the images left me uninspired. They looked better suited for inspirational posters hung on the walls of H&R Block in a generic office park.

Then I found a photo of colorful sequins scattered in a joyful pile of glitteriness. Yes, please!

To Blur Your Sparkle or Not to Blur Your Sparkle?

When I sent it to a friend, so he could help me size it, he asked if I was sure it was the right image. While it may be a great choice for a creative director or a designer, he explained, I was searching for a chief of staff role supporting a senior executive at a global company. Perhaps it would send the wrong message: like showing up at church in a crop top. (He didn’t say that last part.)  

We had a negotiation about whether I should use it or not. I was too attached to give in, so we compromised. He blurred the image using Photoshop, so it was less blingy than the original. We hoped this version would be more palatable to buttoned-up, corporate types.

It didn’t work because I didn’t get a job. Is it unfair to blame my LinkedIn background image? Hard to say, but something was definitely off, like when you misbutton your coat; it still keeps you warm, but it doesn’t look right. Either way, I’m grateful the story ended as it did because the failed job search is why I launched my own leadership and career coaching practice. 

Doing It My Way

There are many aspects of my new career that I love. One of my favorites is that I get to do things my way. Now I can spread glittery sequins to my heart’s content. Take business development as an example: For me, it’s not about sending marketing emails to strangers who perceive them—not as something shiny—but as junk to be dragged to the digital trash can.

Instead, I reach out to people with whom I have a shared history. I hear what they’ve been doing, tell them about my new endeavor, and ask if they know anyone who could benefit from the services that I offer. Sometimes we reminisce about snowy days when we grabbed cookie trays from the office kitchen to go sledding at lunch. What would have been considered goofing off in another job is now an essential part of my daily responsibilities. 

Throwing Caution to the Wind

I recently reconnected with the woman who hired me for my first professional job. I hadn’t even turned 22 when I showed up for the interview.  As we chatted, my former boss shared her first impression of me. She remembered that I wore a black and white checkered suit with yellow accents and a yellow headband to tame my mass of curls. While I was flattered that she remembered our encounter in so much detail, I felt a little embarrassed hearing her account nearly three decades later. “Why wouldn’t I have made a safer choice?” I thought. (Cue an Ann Taylor navy blue suit.) 

Unaware of the sidebar conversation in my head, she went on to explain that part of what drove her to hire me was how I presented myself. She wanted to onboard energetic and enthusiastic people to the team, and in addition to my personality, my outfit signaled those traits. I got the job, and it was a career highlight. 

Pump Up the Volume

Looking back, I see that I landed in a company culture that was best suited to me when I showed up in my own suit—not an off-the-rack Ann Taylor but one with sunshine yellow details and shoulder pads. (Hey, it was the ‘90s!) I had not yet learned to tone myself down to appear more “corporate,” and the more I did, the more unhappy I was. 

If I had known this story during my last job search, maybe I wouldn’t have tried to appeal to people who are scared off by shiny things. Instead, maybe I would have waited for someone who wanted to dive into a joyful pile of glitteriness with me.  

I’m no longer willing to dull my sparkle in my work or in my life. So I ask: What have you been toning down—or tuning up—to make an impression? Maybe you should hold out for the person who is looking for exactly what you have to offer. 

Recent Posts

Winning in the Shallow End

Winning in the Shallow End

Vince Lombardi famously said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” I disagree. There are other things. Flooding Back A former colleague included me in the slate of candidates being considered to coach an employee in his organization. During the vetting...

Standing Up to the Bully in the Boardroom

Standing Up to the Bully in the Boardroom

It was 2002, not long after I’d lost my job following September 11th. It was a tough time to be out of work, so imagine my delight to get an offer about a month later. I was thrilled I wouldn’t need to spend the money from my severance package for living expenses....

What to Do When Your Client Hates You

What to Do When Your Client Hates You

The day after delivering a workshop to a corporate client, I received an email from my contact, “Let me know when you have time tomorrow to discuss yesterday’s presentation.” Twelve words. No friendly greeting. No cordial closing. I felt like I was being called to the...