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by Katy Ward

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

Sue had heard this for the first time at a networking conference in Peterborough from her “career cheerleader” Sandy — a woman in her late forties with lipstick on her teeth who ran a dating agency on the side.

Unknown to Sue, both businesses were under investigation by the Office of Fair Trading.

Still, as a philosophy, it made sense. That’s why she embraced it as the power ballad of her career: another of Sandy’s mantras.

Sue repeats it to herself five times every morning as she prepares to march out the door and show the world who’s boss.

And nobody could say she hadn’t done alright for herself: with three people under her, she earned four grand above the national average.

Not bad for a girl who was thrown off the hair and beauty NVQ.

Today wasn’t going to be easy, but these conversations needed to be had.


“Hi Holly. First off, this chat is between us.

“When I was doing the 360° evaluation for your appraisal, one issue came up a couple of times. It’s a little sensitive …

“Well, there’s a perception you’re not quite projecting the right image for a professional environment.

“I don’t mind myself, but clients expect certain standards.

“We’re not asking much … a bit of lip gloss and some mascara. Maybe treat yourself to a couple of smart tops when we get paid.

“You see, it’s all about perception and politics in an office. You can be as good at your job as you like, but you need to project the air of success.

“You’re not the only one who needs help in this department. For me, it’s skin tone. No matter how much foundation I put on, I’ve still got that ruddy-faced look.

“And it won’t only be for work, it could help you find yourself a man.”


Sue had to admit Holly’s make-up was spot-on the next time she saw her. Professionals must have done it for an occasion like this, she supposed.

The skin was flawless: that porcelain effect. Sue felt a tinge of jealousy. Even today, she still had that reddish glow.

She’d been especially surprised by the fiancé: handsome, with a PhD. She could fancy him herself — especially now her fella had buggered off with their neighbours’ daughter.

She hadn’t even known Holly was engaged.


“Good you went to the funeral home,” Sophie from HR confided over caramel macchiatos. “Just between us: this situation has been a PR disaster.”

Sue concluded she’d been right to keep the meeting off the record: there’d be inevitable concerns over her management style if it were known she’d had this kind of chat with a subordinate a few hours before her suicide.

A scapegoat might even be necessary to protect the company’s reputation.

You see, it’s all about perception and politics.

Katy Ward is a freelance journalist from Hull. Her work has appeared in The Metro, The Overtake, LoveMONEY and Independent Voices. Follow her on Twitter.