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Look Professional to Be Taken Seriously

Job interviews. Pitching to investors. Attending young entrepreneur events. Aside from your professional business goals, what do these things have in common? You. Not only are you presenting your business, but you’re also selling yourself. The image you project can go a long way toward helping you achieve your goal.

If you never get a second chance to make a first impression, then you’d better make that first impression count!


Let’s say you’re at a networking event or other gathering where you could encounter professionals in your field. How do you approach a stranger?

For starters, don’t interrupt someone while they are deep in conversation with someone else. Don’t hover while waiting for them to finish, either. Do a lap around the room/garden/conference center instead and keep an eye on your target. Definitely don’t follow them to the bathroom!

Once you’re in their line of attention, open with something like, “Hi, we haven’t met, but I’m Firstname Lastname.” If this is a person you’ve heard of, let them know what a pleasure it is to meet them and how you know of them. “I’m a huge fan of your podcast!” (Everyone loves flattery.) If they are a total stranger, let them know why you’re approaching them. “I noticed your name tag says you work for the XYZ company and I love the work they do with ABC.”


Now you’re introducing yourself to people you don’t know. How can you get someone’s attention (in a positive way) so that they want to get to know more about you, and possibly help you?

->In person:

  • Stand up straight and look them in the eye
  • Practice a firm but not crushing handshake (if that’s appropriate)
  • Use Ms/Mr/Mx followed by the person’s last name, if you know it. If not, ask the person how they’d like to be addressed. “How may I call you?” works just fine.
  • Introduce yourself with your full name followed by a quick identifier. “My name is Firstname Lastname, and I’m a junior at North Southwest High School.”
  • If you’ve been referred by someone, include their name and why they referred you.

->Via email, DM, or other written correspondence:

  • Include a greeting. “Hello, Mx Lastname,” is perfect.
  • Introduce yourself, including your name and quick identifier (see above).
  • If you’ve been referred by someone, include their name and why they referred you.
  • Explain why you’re writing, including what you want and how the person can help.
  • Provide all contact information.
  • Sign off simply and politely. “Sincerely, Firstname Lastname.”


Try to wear a well-fitting suit if you can. Alternatively, invest in at least 1 good shirt (if not button-down, then at least polo style), a clean and well-made pair of slacks, good shoes, and appropriate accessories. Get the clothes tailored if necessary so they fit you well. Keep the jewelry subdued.

Believe it or not, dressing like a professional will not only help you be taken seriously, but it’ll also help you take yourself seriously. When you look professional, you feel professional!


Shower before your networking event or job interview. Use a good deodorant. Comb your hair neatly or put it up into a bun. Those of you who enjoy putting on makeup should keep it natural but flattering. Avoid the urge to use perfume, cologne, or body spray (many people have allergy sensitivities to scents). Brush your teeth, or at least make sure there’s no food in there and your breath smells clean. Clean and trim your fingernails. Look like someone who takes pride in their appearance.


No matter how informal we’ve become on social media, good manners never go out of style in person.

  • Say “please,” “thank you,” and either “you’re welcome” or “my pleasure”
  • Smile
  • Hold doors for people
  • Don’t complain
  • Be an active listener
  • Stick to the topic at hand
  • Minimize fidgeting
  • Don’t invade someone’s personal space


Talking to strangers can trip up even the most articulate young entrepreneurs. This goes double when the stranger in question has something you need, like a job offer or investment capital. Make life easier for yourself with the following techniques used by public speakers, actors, and others who make a living through talking to strangers:

  • Stretch your body
  • Do some tongue-twisters
  • Repeat your prepared statements (including your pitch) until it sounds natural, and you no longer trip over words or forget important pieces of information
  • Slow down when you talk
  • Clear your throat or blow your nose before you go in front of people
  • Take deep breaths
  • Know how to pronounce words you might say that you’ve never said out loud before


No one expects you to be so calm that you’re about to fall asleep. In any professional setting, it’s normal to be nervous. Interviewers, potential mentors, competition judges, and anyone else in a position of authority over you will understand that you’re nervous. So, first things first, stop trying to appear like this whole thing is no big deal. Of course it’s a big deal!

Next, develop some mental techniques that can help you get out of your head. Look at photos of your dog while you wait to be called into an interview. Listen to a comedy podcast on the drive to the competition. Give yourself a pep talk in the mirror. (Yes, it’s cheesy, but it can work.)


A good, basic rule to live by is to aim to arrive 5-10 minutes before your appointment time. Being late is just plain unprofessional and almost guarantees you won’t get the job. Being too early, on the other hand, might stress out the person you’re meeting while they race to catch up with you.

Whatever amount of time you think it’ll take to get to your destination, add another 50%. If you arrive too early you can always sit in your car, take a walk, or go to a coffee shop.

For many of you, your entrepreneurship journey is the first chance you’ll have to practice looking, sounding, and acting professionally. Good luck and do your best!

The Kantner Foundation awards college scholarships to young entrepreneurs in Florida. Click here to learn more and apply.

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