We’ve all heard the expression, “You have only one chance to make a good first impression.” How true that is! One of the main purposes of an interview is to present yourself to a potential employer in a manner that reflects a highly polished and professional image. It is important to keep in mind that the interview is not the time to be making a personal statement with the way you dress. Your goal should be to show that you respect the interviewer’s values, tastes, and expectations relative to dress and personal manner. Although professional dress and appropriate style may vary slightly depending on job type, work environment and geographical region, there are several key points to keep in mind:
A conservative business suit is almost always the rule. A well-tailored or fitted suit coat and trousers will go a long way in helping you present yourself professionally and confidently. For example, coat sleeve and trouser length should be such that the fit is neither too short nor too long. Appropriate size is critical not only for comfort, but also for presenting a “clean” fit. There is no room for sloppiness. Although new graduates are often working with a tight personal budget, shopping for a new suit at a discount-clothing outlet is generally not suggested. The additional expense invested in a quality suit will pay tremendous dividends in making a positive first impression and serve to enhance your confidence.
Acceptable colors continue to be darker shades and hues including grays, blues (navy), and black. Pattern designs such as pin stripes and plaids are acceptable as long as they are subtle. Note: In warmer climates there is generally more leniency toward lighter shades of blues, grays, and even tan. Likewise, lightweight fabrics are more practical in the south while wool or wool blends are commonplace in northern climates. A general rule of thumb is to stay away from the browns and greens…these colors are more acceptable at a football game on a cold, gray, October afternoon, or on the golf course on a bright, sunny morning!
A plain white or off-white shirt is always a winner. In most cases, either a loose or button-down collar (oxford cloth) is fine. Occasionally pastel shades (blue, pink, yellow, etc.) are acceptable, as is a pin-stripe design as long as the look is conservative and not flashy.
Neckties…again the word is conservative. Patterns should be uniform and subtle, whether stripes or small dots. Paisley designs are generally acceptable. Deep reds, maroon, blues, navy, grays and black are colors that blend well with dark suits, once again keeping in mind that slight variations may occur due to region and climate. Width should generally be about the same as your coat lapels. Extremely wide lapels and ties were more acceptable when cruising in a brand new ’49 Dodge convertible with one of the big bands blaring on the radio!
Dressing in your best attire for the interview also means having your shoes shined, if not new. Wearing a new suit and tie with an old, dirty pair of shoes that need resoled would be like washing and waxing your car without scrubbing the tires and hubcaps. Laced shoes are the general rule; loafers are a little too casual, and hush puppies should be reserved for Friday night barbecues. The color of your socks should complement or match the rest of your outfit. Argyle and see-through socks are not considered appropriate. Likewise, a leather belt that matches the color of your shoes and has a small buckle is a good choice.
Dressing in a conservative business suit is the best way to present a professional image. As has been stated, the suit should fit well and make you feel good about yourself. Ask clothing salespersons for assistance in determining what is currently acceptable for skirt length; generally, length should not be too long nor too short.
Studies in social psychology have shown that women have an advantage over men when it comes to selecting colors for professional dress. Although the grays and blues are standard, women tend to be able to get away with wearing more of a variety of colors.
Oftentimes, bright colors including reds, maroon, various shades of blue and even green are acceptable. Women are also usually able to wear various fabrics without appearing unprofessional.
Your blouse should complement the suit in a conservative fashion. It should not be too revealing, high around the neck, nor have too many ruffles or frills. White or off-white colors such as cream usually match well with many suit colors. See-through blouses are discouraged for the professional interview.
Stockings are a must and should be flesh-toned or a color very close to it. Avoid color or patterns that would be distracting.
Shoes should be sensibly selected in a way that is not intended to make a statement. High heels and open toes are choices better left for activities other than the professional interview, such as attending a Saturday evening performance of the Boston Pops Symphony.
For Men and Women
Hair should be of a conservative style and not look like you have spent hours caring for it. The currently popular disheveled hairstyles may not be the best way to make points with a professional interviewer. Men who wear beards and mustaches should take extra time to make sure facial hair is neatly trimmed and not too long. Women can usually wear their hair in more styles as long as it is not too wild and brash.
Fingernails should be trimmed and hands clean. Women should not go overboard with bright, flashy nail polish colors, and lipstick and eye makeup should be used moderately.
Jewelry should be kept to a minimum and conservative in appearance. Gold medallions and sparkling chains are better left for downtown clubs, wedding receptions, and masquerade parties. Women should not wear giant hoop earrings or ones that are extremely flashy. Likewise, don’t wear too many rings…one or two are plenty.
Cologne and perfume are fine for both men and women as long as it is not overbearing. You don’t want to knock someone over by using a half bottle of aftershave or perfume.
In summary, you need to think seriously about the image that you want to portray; most importantly one that suggests you want to fit in and not stand out in a manner that might represent extreme individualism.
Moderation in dress is most always the key for the professional interview. You want to appear confident, conservative, reliable, and polished. The way you dress can greatly enhance your portrayal of these qualities. Your clothing should appear as a natural extension of you, tailored to help you present a positive image and “shine” in the interview. Your considerations and efforts will pay tremendous dividends. After the interview you can get back into those comfortable jeans, T-shirts, and athletic shoes.
Now just smile and give it your best!