You spend weeks trawling through job advertisements, perfecting your resume, and submitting applications. You finally get asked to attend an interview, and you meticulously prepare yourself for any question they could possibly throw at you. You’re the perfect candidate, and you head in feeling confident and with the attitude of success.
But are you going to get the job if you go to the interview wearing jeans and old pair of sneakers? It doesn’t matter how prepared you are, if you’re not dressed appropriately it’s an indication of poor judgement or ignorance of convention, and either way it’s not the first impression that you want to be making.
The first thing people are going to be basing their judgements on, for better or worse, is the way that you look. As Andy Teach, author of ‘From Graduation to Corporation: The Practical Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder One Rung at a Time’, explains, “you are being judged as soon as you walk into the room and the interviewer has made an initial impression of you in the first few seconds they see you based on how you look. That may not be fair but it is reality in many cases. An interviewer is expecting you to dress appropriately for the interview. If not, you are showing the interviewer that you don’t understand the basics of what it takes to be successful in the workplace. If this is the case, you already have one strike against you.”
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Different jobs, different expectations
The old adage ‘dress for the job you want’ is all well and good, but who knows what the job you want dresses like these days! Whilst for certain jobs a suit and tie is appropriate, for others it’s casual friday everyday. Different industries have different standards, and what’s appropriate for an accountant of one company might not be suitable for an art director.
The easiest way to ensure that you’re wearing the appropriate attire is by researching the company and the position. Look through the LinkedIn profiles of the company executives, and of those in the position you are applying for. Look on the company’s own website for any photographs of the workpla ce or employees. Research the dress code of the particular industry, and get in touch with anyone you know within that industry or at the company itself. If you are seriously unsure, you can always contact reception or human resources and ask what the recommended dress code is.
Dress a level up
While “you probably don’t need to wear a suit and tie to a job interview at a laid back company,” says Teach, “that doesn’t mean you should dress too casually, either.” The general rule of thumb is dress a level up. In other words, once you’ve figured out what the company’s day-to-day dress code entails, take it up a notch for your interview.
According to Kate Wendleton, president and founder of career counselling firm the Five O’Clock Club, “If you were going for a job as a mechanic, you wouldn’t go in there in dirty overalls, even though that’s how you would dress for that kind of work. You would still go in there and show respect. You would go in with an open-collar shirt, clean pants and maybe a jacket.”
Just remember not to take it too far, as you don’t want to look entirely out of place. Part of the interview is demonstrating that you belong in the company’s environment, and are a good fit for their team, so maybe nix the top hat.
Some great go-to interview outfits include a blazer and button down shirt with a knee length pencil skirt or tapered slacks, or a smart, structured, knee-length dress with sleeves.
Avoid the common mistakes of wearing skirts that are too tight or too short, tops that are too low, scuffed shoes, or too much makeup. You’re basically trying to avoid anything that’s going to be a distraction from the interview itself.
Don’t go too crazy with accessories, but don’t neglect them. Whether it’s a belt, jewellery, or a handbag, try not to wear anything too flashy, and make sure it’s all in good condition. Whatever shoes you choose to wear, make sure they are clean and, most importantly, that you can walk in them!
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Chris Smith, CEO at MyJobMatcher.com, suggests that “dark, sober colours are always good and cotton wins over linen, even in the summer – linen creases ridiculously easily.”
If a suit is appropriate, make sure it’s well-fitting; it’s worth investing in good quality if you’re going to be wearing one frequently. If more casual attire is called for, a failsafe interview outfit is slacks with a button down shirt.
The devil is in the details, so make sure that you polish your shoes. Avoid crazy ties that will be a distraction, and the same goes for socks. If you’re unsure about whether or not a tie is necessary, wear it. If you feel overdressed, you can always slip into the bathroom and hide it in your pocket.
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On being yourself
If you have a particularly unique look, then it’s up to you to decide whether you want to wear that loud and proud in your interview. Whether it’s a matter of heavy makeup, or piercings and tattoos, naturally the more alternative you look, the fewer people will get you. This, however, might be a great way for you to filter out workplaces that aren’t a good fit for you.
No matter what you wear, or who you are, some companies will want you and some won’t, so if you feel strongly about it then you may as well represent yourself honestly and find a workplace that’s into who you really are.
Some handy hints
Remember that you’re not trying to make a statement with your attire so much as avoiding negatively impacting your chances. “Interviewers can decide in 10 seconds that they don’t want you,” Wendleton says, “It will take them longer to decide they do want you.”
Decide on your outfit in advance and have it laid out the night before. Make sure everything is clean and ironed. Give the outfit a test drive; spend some time wearing it, practice answering interview questions, and make sure you’re comfortable.
Your grooming is as important as your outfit. Make sure you’ve showered and shaved, with neat, clean hair, and tidy nails. Take it easy on the perfume and cologne – you don’t want your overwhelming scent to be the first, or last, thing an interviewer notices about you.
And as a final note of advice, Teach advises that even once you have the job, “always dress for the position you want, not the one you have. Don’t emulate how your peers dress, dress how management dresses, if that’s what you aspire to.”