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January 1, 2018

A wardrobe full of skills: How to compose successful self-presentations

After having read an article on capsule wardrobes, I decided to downsize my stock of clothes and invited a professional stylist to help me perform an inventory of my belongings.[1] Together, we sorted out a third of my wardrobe, and I found the confidence to wear, with joy, whatever I would blindly grab.

“Stick to the styles that complement your figure, and you’ll always feel confident in your clothes.”

Francine Jay

I was thinking back to this liberating experience when I edited my LinkedIn profile for the fifth time within a week. The more I tried to fit everything in, the less it would feel right. What I needed was an inventory of my identity to select those items that characterise me and that I could combine consistently without effort. What I needed was a capsule wardrobe for my skills.

“Stick to the styles that complement your character, and you’ll always feel confident in your skin.”

In this article, I argue that it makes sense to think of our skills as if they were clothes and show how this will help us to be more confident and more successful in our self-presentations.

Inventories are key

I struggled so much with updating my LinkedIn profile because I felt overwhelmed by the abundance of things I could mention. A decade of experiences, a lifetime of skills, and a chaos of beliefs waited for me to be structured. The challenge was similar to the one of choosing an outfit from a jam-packed wardrobe. We regularly fail from seeing the wood for the trees and so often end up with the conclusion that we had ‘nothing to wear’.
The capsule wardrobe forces us to reduce the number of clothes to the maximum so that we will keep only favourite items in which we feel comfortable, that match our character and our lifestyle. Performing a ruthless inventory will help us identify all items we have kept for their emotional value or out of reluctance to change and then, sorting out all redundancies and second pairs of the same.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéryn

Without even realising it, we often hang on to outdated images of ourselves. We highlight achievements that date back years although we have developed new skills and nurtured new hobbies in the meantime. Without regular self-reflective inventories, we risk getting stuck in a mindset that projects an obsolete image of ourselves. We then ignore underused talents that in fact complement our character in a way that would make us stand out.
Skill-capsules that we composed after a careful inventory help us develop confidence in presenting ourselves authentically. It enables us to show the style that is consistent with who we are. And, once we identified the content of our skill-capsule, the fun starts of experimenting with combinations.

Combine to shine

For me, the beauty of a capsule wardrobe lies in its efficiency. Since all pieces perfectly match each other, we no longer waste time thinking about what to wear and how to combine. Through smart combination, the impact of the wardrobe grows larger than the sum of its parts because each item will underline the particularity of the other. After all, it is the extravagant accessory or remarkable garment that boosts a standard outfit and defines a unique style that will stand out and impress.
In the same way, the skill-capsule aims at giving us the opportunity to highlight our unique features to stand out without distraction. It will pay off to dare to reveal what might be unexpected. Think of a financial accountant who, in a self-presentation, shows a passion for improv theatre. The ability to focus, an ordinary skill to an accountant, is complemented by the aptitude to spontaneously improvise, a talent that some might not have instinctively related to that profile. This unforeseen aspect will emphasise the person behind the role and will spark curiosity for stimulating conversations to emerge. After all, we aim to be seen as individuals when we present ourselves and not as interchangeable skill-sets. We can achieve this when we combine to shine.

The nutshell to take home

An abundance of clothes distracts us from finding the perfect outfit to shine at any occasion. In the same way, a wealth of experiences distracts us from seeing our unique skill-set which makes us stand out. Through regular inventories of our wardrobes of skills, we identify core items that define our style and match our character.
For feeling comfortable in the way we present ourselves, we must compose a capsule wardrobe of skills that represents who we are and what we stand for. Then, we can live our authentic self in a way that feels right in every situation as we have those features at hand that will put the best version of us in the centre.

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[1] Thank you Shereen Leissius for your inspiration through your professional help and experienced eye.