THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- View school II: One expensive image-management tip

Last week, we looked at two free but counter-intuitive tips for managing your image, something very important in the workplace.

To manage your image effectively, you have to think constantly about how other people will perceive you.

Are you wondering if you're good at image management? Ask yourself how you responded to that first sentence. If you said to yourself, "I am not consumed by what other people think of me—I have enough self-confidence to just be myself," then you are probably bad at image management.

Because it's not so cut-and-dried as either being ruled by everyone else or just being yourself. In fact, managing your image is mostly just making sure that people see you as your true self and don't get side-tracked by things that easily derail our perception of other people.

Rule #1: Hang up on important people.

I explained last week how to prepare for making contact with someone important. In short, when you've got that one chance to make an impression, you better be ready.

Rule #2: Compare yourself to losers.

Thomas Gilovich of Cornell University studied Olympians and found that people who win the bronze medal are happier than people who win the silver– because silver medalists compare themselves to the gold medalists, while bronze winners compare themselves to non-medalists.

If you compare yourself to low performers at work, then you feel successful, and if you feel successful, you will be happier. This is circular, but in a good way, because people who are happier at work do perform better. Even against high-performers.

Here is the pricier way you'll need to consider to manage your image:

Rule #3: Spend money on image when money is tight.

Are you wondering how Sarah Palin could spend $150,000 for new clothes during the vice-presidential campaign? If you don't understand why she needed those clothes, you probably are not spending enough on your own image.

The key to knowing what to spend money on is knowing what people are paying for, so you know what you're cutting corners on.

For example, expensive bangs are very different from cheap bangs. If you don't know the difference, you don't know whether to get crappy bangs. The same is true for eyebrows, and highlights. Newsflash: Good highlights in LA and NY are $300, without a haircut. And you have to get them done every two months.

Sarah Palin is going on TV every day. She has no idea how to look like the other people in that league, but she is doing what Republican stylists say, and she looks great. Who doesn't look great in an Armani suit from Saks? That's the thing about expensive. Expensive is safe, especially if you don't know what you are doing— you will look like you know what you're doing.

And don't tell me about Michelle Obama's $150 dress. She made headlines when she wore it on the View because making that outfit look great is hard to do.

So if you want to look like you belong at a certain level, you need to pay for what others in that league pay for. Work is a club. And if you think people want to see you cutting corners in a bad economy, you're wrong. Time magazine reports that Playboy— the grand arbiter of all image consulting— found that in a bear market, centerfolds of meatier women sold better. This makes sense: In a down market you naturally want to be around people who don't seem to be suffering from the financial hardship.

In a centerfold, it's meat on your bones. In the workplace, it's an Armani suit.