The Car You Drive Can Make (or Break) a Career

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Unless you live in New York City or a few other places around the world, a car is a part of your daily life. You commute in it; you do conference calls in it; you plan for your day in it; you take clients out to lunch and co-workers to meetings in it; you check your emails while you are stuck in traffic; and, you text your coworkers that you will be late from it. (Note: these last two should be taken off your list for safety sake.) Whether we like it or not, a car is a part of our work life and can impact our career.

I know a venture capitalist who used car choice to decide about investing. Early in the pitch he would ask startled entrepreneurs what kind of car he or she drove. Usually, they would shrug like it was an ice-breaking question. What they didn’t know was that the VC was making a judgment. His interpretation was that if the entrepreneur drove a fast car, there was more likely to be action and speed in getting the company up and running. The entrepreneur who drove the Prius was in trouble.

A very senior manager I worked with once gave me a ride to a client meeting. In the office, she was always articulate, organized and put together. As we approached her car I spotted that the backseat of her car was crammed with three car seats. Not one, not two, three full-on strapped in car seats. As one who always wrestled with car seats, the fact that she could install three car seats alone was impressive. To some, the car loaded with the seats might have been an indication that here is a person with too much going on. To me, it was a statement that I was dealing with an incredible manager. She was soon promoted.

Sometimes each of us will be called on to drive while at work. There is no Uber, no taxi, and no one else available. Once I gave my boss a ride to a client because his car was in the repair shop. My vehicle at the time was a mini van that was used to bus around four kids and their friends. I had long before given up on having a clean interior. I got rid of the spilled French fries and the Popcicle wrappers but there was only so much I could do. When my boss jumped in the passenger seat, he took a deep breath and proclaimed, “I love the smell of dogs in a car!” At the time we didn’t own a dog but the van did smell like wet baseball gloves. The boss proceeded to tell me how he loved dogs and his perception of me became much more positive now that he knew I had dogs. I didn’t dissuade him of the notion.

If you drive an old beater, it may send out a message that you need a raise. Or, it may send out the message that you don’t care what others think.

If you drive a Ferrari on a meager salary, you may send out a message that you don’t really need a job. Or, that you are a former NBA star.

If you park a million miles away from other cars to prevent door dings, you may send out a message that you are meticulous. Or, depending on the car, that you are overly cautious.

There are probably millions of options today when it comes to vehicle choices and there is no perfect car. But your car should somewhat align with your world. If your boss is Al Gore, you might not want to take him to a meeting in a Hummer. If your biggest client is Ford, don’t show up with a new Chevy Volt. If you are crying poverty to all those around you, the new Tesla may not play well. Others will invariably learn what you drive, so next time you go car shopping, think about what your car might say about you.

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