Studies have shown that most interviewers make their decision to hire a candidate within the first two seconds, even before the first question is asked. Given this knowledge, it is crucial that you make a successful first impression. Taking steps to make an impression that projects professionalism, ability, and capability will optimize your chances for success. Prominent nonverbal communications researcher Frank Bernieri believes strongly in “being well dressed and nicely groomed” and says, “You wouldn’t believe the impact of attire on the first impression.”
To get a handle on how to properly dress for a job interview, let’s focus on mastering the professional look of the suit and tie.
The key to achieving this professional look is to assemble an outfit that is tasteful, coordinated, and composed appropriately.
Let’s take these steps one by one:
Tasteful: Taste is in the eye of the beholder and the beholder in this case is the interviewer. Of course your personal taste will be the one making the decisions, but keep in mind that your choices should reflect the expectations of your interviewer. You should make a determination about the image and style of dress of the company in your sights. Are they conservative in their appearance like a bank, or more contemporary like an ad agency, or are they somewhere in-between?
Coordinated: What looks good together is both are an art and a science. The first step is to choose a suit that is a single dark color or a subtle dark pattern. The classic choice is the dark blue business suit. The color choice of the suit will set the framework for selecting the shirt and tie.
Choosing the shirt and tie is the second step. A good rule is that either the shirt or the tie should have a stronger pattern or color while the other should have a subtler pattern or color, but they should both not be too strong nor too subtle.
With these ideas in mind it is helpful to gain hands-on experience to see what looks good on you and what you feel confident wearing. One of the easiest ways to learn this is to visit a quality department store and try on a variety of suits and ties. When you arrive, ask for help and tell the salesperson, “May I please get your assistance in selecting a suit and tie that would be appropriate for a job interview at XYZ Company”. A good salesperson will be able to provide you with several excellent choices of attire that meet your needs.
The Internet is another good place for ideas. Visit the “suit” section of any major department store’s website for the latest in what is in style for this season and what appeals to you.
Composed Appropriately: At a basic level this means brown shoes go with a brown belt and black shoes go with a black belt. Clothes should be cleaned and shoes polished and ready to go the night before your interview.
More substantively it means the proper tie knot, tied correctly. The tie is the most crucial component of the outfit because it is the most prominent and can be worn correctly or incorrectly and it signals your competency immediately. If you haven’t had sufficient experience with tying ties now is the time to learn.
Most men learned to tie the Four-in-Hand knot from their fathers. It worked fine as a young man and still has its place, but wearing a Four-in-Hand knot to a job interview would be a poor choice. In most cases it looks small, lopsided and amateurish on a grown man. It would be a giveaway sign to any HR person that the applicant has little experience in a professional environment.
A better suggestion would be the Pratt Knot, a very easy to tie knot popularized by news anchor Don Shelby. It should be noted that shirt collars have different sized openings. The choice of tie knot should correspond to the type of collar opening.
The Pratt Knot is a medium-sized, symmetrical knot appropriate for most shirt collars and should be in everyone’s repertoire. Here is how to tie a Pratt Knot.
1. Place the tie around your neck with the inside of your tie, the side with the label, facing OUTWARD, i.e. backward. Place it so the wide end in your right hand and the narrow end in your left hand.
2. Cross wide end under the narrow end and end on the left side.
3. Continue by bring the wide end of the tie up over the narrow end and down through the loop around your neck, remaining on the left side.
4. Next cross the wide end in front of the tie from left to right ending on the right.
5. Now come up through the neck loop and down through the loop made by the previous cross at the front of the tie.
6. Tighten carefully and draw up to collar.
7. The tip of the tie should just cover your belt buckle. If it is too long or too short, reverse these steps to untie the tie and shorten or lengthen it accordingly.