The recent American Idol competition seemed to have boiled down to the age old dilemma of looks versus talent, a subject that captivates me as an image consultant and one that should concern all of us as we strive to succeed in the world.

The New York Times ran a recent article about the contest between the final two contestants. The author compared the affable southern young man, Kris Allen, to Pat Boone, while drawing upon similarities of southern Californian glam rocker Adam Lambert to Elvis. What comparisons! Would America have been capable of voting for Elvis in a 1950s-era American Idol? We know Elvis changed the culture and the sound of music; so his popularity and prominence makes him a true and everlasting American idol. In one sense America voted for Elvis with their wallets. But would America have boldly dialed in for him?

People tend to align themselves [or vote for] those who are more like them. To say nothing of their talents, Kris resembles more people than Adam.

A recent article in Scientific American even chronicles how the physical appearance of political candidates influences our choices in leaders. Sure, we want to idealize their political views and qualifications. But according to a study conducted by a pair of Swiss psychologists, children as young as five years of age were able to accurately predict the outcome of French parliamentary elections merely based on the candidates’ facial appearances.

This information has strong implications for each of us. It is unlikely we’ll surgically alter our facial appearances just to be deemed more competent for a job interview, appear more favorable with clients to sell more, or even to win the favor of a love interest. At least I hope not! Let’s remain authentic to ourselves and not turn into a populace of zombie clones lacking independence!

But as you continue to hone your professional and personal talents and crafts, you also do need to tend to the way you look. As superficial as it seems, people are heavily influenced by the visual image you project. There is a time and place to look competent, and a time and a place to appear attractive. Competence and attractiveness are not mutually exclusive traits, for instance.

So take a lesson from Adam Lambert, who – many did feel – had the more talented voice. No doubt he made his mark on American Idol. In the world of celebrity making, his star has risen because of the huge platform of that TV show. But for the average hard-working guy without such a springboard, it’s best to manage your talent and your image to make sure you get the one vote you really need to secure that job, or that raise, or that client, or that sale.

Designing and managing your image is the secret science to your success.

Joseph Rosenfeld helps professional men and corporate workgroups create effective visual brands. Visit JosephRosenfeld.com for details.