Make that good first impression

  • Published
  • By Tony Martin
  • ARPC Civilian Personnel Officer
I happened to be sitting next to some sort of cactus bush along a long fence row miles from the nearest anything. Some 600 yards away was a herd of antelope with barely a blade of grass between us (except for the fence wire). Realizing they were simply too far off and not coming any closer, and that this was just the opening day of the 2007 antelope season, I decided to head to my vehicle in search of a new location.

A few minutes after I reached my vehicle, two game wardens pulled up. For whatever reason, an encounter with men wearing side arms is a stressful encounter for me, and evident by their demeanor, questions and tone, it was obvious they were unsure of my intentions and even thought I was trespassing. You see, those antelope, as they often are, were on private property, but I certainly was not. Luckily, this situation quickly turned positive. In retrospect, dress, appearance and my making a good first impression resulted in these men assisting me on a very exciting and successful adventure. I propose to you that dress and appearance and making a good impression is just as, or more so important in the workplace.

Have you ever wondered what image a civil service employee should portray to the world, or maybe what directive or instruction covers it? I believe it is not only important to know that, but to have an appreciation for the importance of dress and appearance, making a good impression and holistically ensuring a positive public image of government employees. 

I am already looking forward to the superb first impression that ARPC employees make when our work force relocates to Buckley.

You might be surprised at how often the topic of dress and appearance comes up in my office. Questions like "Should that manager always wear jeans?" or "What about that employee wearing shorts?" Well, AFI 36-703, Civilian Conduct and Responsibility, is the Air Force's guidance on civilian standards of dress and appearance. 

In my antelope story, I was wearing appropriate field-gear that met all legal requirements for fluorescent orange and safety. I was also complying with all firearm safety rules, and had quality maps that I was familiar with so that I could show the wardens I knew exactly where I was (tactfully and professionally). 

A favorable first-impression on all accounts was made. 

The premise of AFI 36-703, and specifically Section C, is that Air Force civilian employees present a professional public image. Per the instruction, we are expected to comply with reasonable dress and grooming standards based on comfort, productivity, health, safety and the type of position we have. 

At ARPC, we certainly do not have the diversity and considerations necessary of many locations and occupations, but, in all cases, employee attire must be in good repair and should not be considered offensive, disruptive or unsafe. 

Even though managers disagreeing with styles, modes of dress and grooming currently in fashion cannot be a criterion for making an appropriateness determination, I suggest to you that an understanding or appreciation for the "public image," and even personal image, is of great importance to us all.

Whether your clothes work for you or against you depends upon the message you send. In business, like the professionals at ARPC, the message should be both professional and intentional, for it determines how others perceive you and relate to you. The right clothing gives a look that is current and credible. I would recommend a look that is positively interpreted by others. Remember, you are the message.

I would suggest reviewing AFI 36-703 on Civilian Conduct and Responsibility. There also is a ton of Internet information and research results on what not to wear to work, what is appropriate for an interview, what is appropriate for wear for someone pursuing upward mobility, dressing on a tight budget, networking and selling yourself nonverbally. 

If you are a reality TV watcher, catch the next episode of TLC's "What Not to Wear" where fashion police ambush their next victims. 

Albeit they may be called "fashion police," I do not believe they carry side arms.