In this post I’ll tackle the ticklish subject of how to dress for a job interview. And yes, although the interview is primarily about your qualifications, you do have to sell yourself – and part of selling yourself is your appearance.
Funny thing about your appearance: it’s the first thing the interview panel sees about you and remember the old saying “you never get a second chance to make a good impression”. Don’t let your clothes take away from that first impression.
Many Hiring Managers will assume that if you have a sloppy appearance you are either a sloppy worker or you didn’t care enough to make a good impression. You can’t afford either opinion in today’s very competitive job market
If you’ve done any reading at all about how to dress for an interview, you’ve undoubtedly read that you should dress one level higher than the job for which you’re applying. As a Hiring Manager, I agree with this classic advice because it demonstrates respect for the Hiring Manager and the company.
As an example, if you’re a man and interviewing for a factory job where everyone typically wears jeans, you should wear “Dockers” style pants and a shirt with a collar. If you’re interviewing for some type of office position where the norm is “business casual”, wear a tie if a man and a dress suit if a woman. You get the picture.
Let’s talk first about professional and management positions. For men, the most appropriate dress is a suit and tie with dress shoes, all in conservative colors.
For women, a formal pant suit, rather than a dress, is best. This way, you won’t have to worry about what is the proper dress length or if you should wear stockings. Keep jewelry to a minimum and wear shoes with conservative heels.
For clerical and trade positions, men should wear dress or “Docker” style pants, a conservative long sleeve shirt with a collar and hard-soled shoes (not athletic shoes).
And for women, a sweater or blouse with casual or dressy pants is the way to go.
Under no circumstances should you wear blue jeans to an interview…for any job. No matter how fashionable and expensive they are or how terrific you may look in them, many hiring managers will immediately peg you as disrespectful and not serious about the interview.
When in doubt, conservative is always better. Avoid loud or unusual colors, bright checked patterns, etc. These distract and will make it difficult for the hiring manager to take you seriously.
Really, your goal when dressing for an interview should be for your clothes to be so neutral that the hiring manager doesn’t give them a second glance. You want your voice to be heard, not your clothes. An interview is not the place to make an extreme fashion statement.
The bottom line is this: dress conservatively and look neat. The Hiring Manager will then pay attention to what you have to say, not how you look.
Here’s a true story about a time I was interviewing an applicant for a marketing position. He had good qualifications on paper and was articulate in the interview. Trouble was, he was dressed completely in black: black jacket, black shirt, black tie, black pants and black shoes. And he didn’t smile much.
With his demeanor and the Johnny Cash black outfit, I couldn’t shake the impression that I was interviewing a candidate for a Mortician’s job.
This is a classic case of dressing in a way that is seriously detracting. It was difficult for me to envision him pitching our products in front of customers, so I passed on what might have been an otherwise qualified candidate.
So let me reiterate what I’d like you to take away from this post: don’t let your impression be made by your clothes…it may not the impression you want!