No one wants to admit they don’t want to go on a second date because the person sitting across from them last night just wasn’t that attractive.But it happens thousands of times a day all over the world. Yet women and men spend days, weeks, months or even years wondering why they never got asked on a second date. People are afraid to admit that looks matter.
This is a good metaphor for interview dressing. Just like most people don’t want to admit that looks matter, most hiring managers don’t want to admit how much your interview outfit matters.Yes, of course you know you can’t show up to an interview in a cropped top and daisy dukes or with your boxer briefs hanging out and expect to land the job, but there are many far subtler rules that can make or break whether you land your dream job.
Through interviewing thousands of people and working with hundreds of hiring managers, I’ve gotten the inside scoop – and some really fascinating specific stories – on what rules are important and which to ditch when selecting your interview outfit.
In fact, I’ve heard so much feedback from hiring managers that I could write a book on this topic alone. But today, I’m just going to give you the most important guidelines you need to follow when it comes to dressing for the job you want.
I’ll break it down by the “traditional” definitions of male and female, but of course, take what applies to you – whichever side you identify with, or perhaps a mix of the two.My intention is to support you to land the job you want, and I’m confident this will be super helpful.
Rules for All Sexes
1. Always dress one notch above the interviewer, not 10 notches.If it’s an advertising agency or other creative company, they want to see your personality.It’s probably going to be hard to reflect that in a dull black suit you haven’t worn in three years, so choose something professional, fresh, and up-to-date that shows your style.If you’re interviewing at a financial services or professional services firm, that’s a more suit-friendly environment – just make sure you opt for something modern and well-fitting.
2. Don’t wear something just because you think it’s interview-friendly.That old black pencil skirt you haven’t worn since 2012 isn’t going to make you feel confident.Confidence is key when you’re interviewing, and you need to choose an outfit that makes you look AND feel your absolute best.
3. Avoid heavy cologne and perfume.If you usually wear a scent, skip it altogether. Seriously.You never know how sensitive your potential boss might to be scents, or worse, if they’re allergic.DO wear deodorant.The wrong smell – whether it’s Chanel (sorry, you never know who might hate even the highest-end stuff) or body odor – can totally throw your interview off.
1. Wear (practical) heels.It’s worth it – they always make you feel more confident.Just make sure you can walk in them and they’re broken in, so you don’t hobble out with blisters.
2. Play it safe.If you’re not sure the interview setting – for example, sitting on a sofa across from your interviewer or at a vantage point that’s slightly above or below them – avoid skirts, dresses, and low-cut tops.A nice pair of slacks is always safe, or a mid-length skirt or dress that you’re sure gives you full coverage. A classic, solid-colored button-up blouse, well-fitting pants, and a blazer is a great option.Speaking of playing it safe, interviews aren’t the time to experiment with crazy new trends or dip into your drawer of college theme night gear. Our firm once had a finalist get passed up for wearing fishnet stockings to an interview.It may sound ridiculous or sexist, but this ties into the metaphor at the beginning.You can say it doesn’t matter all you want, but you can’t change your interviewer’s subconscious beliefs and programming.
3. Keep jewelry light.It’s a great idea to show your personality when wearing more conservative clothes by adding in a few understated-yet-totally-you pieces of jewelry.Perhaps some simple stud earrings, a delicate necklace, or a classic watch.Choose 1-3 pieces that make you feel your best.Again, keep it light. You want the interviewer to focus on you, not your jewelry.
4. Stay away from heavy makeup.Wear soft neutral tones that simply highlight your features – save the blue eyeshadow for Friday night with the girls.Keep your lipstick or gloss simple, and avoid dark hues like red and pink. It could easily get on your teeth – or chin – and it’s just another distraction preventing the interviewer from focusing on you.
1. Know the environment.If you know it’s a casual office, like an agency or startup, a nice pair of dark jeans, crisp button down, blazer, and dress shoes is always safe.Make sure your shoes aren’t scuffed, and if possible, get them polished. Your shoes say a lot about you.Know the office is as formal as it gets? Make sure you rock a full suit that fits well.If you look meticulous, people automatically assume your work is meticulous. First impressions do matter
2. Don’t overdo it.Even if your style is bold, your interview is not the right time to rock a bright yellow suit or wild floral tie.Don’t distract your interviewer from your skills and background, and like I said earlier, you don’t want to be dressed 10 times better than them.You should always err on the side of slightly more professional than you expect the environment to be, without going all the way to penguin (suit) land.
3. Pay attention to the details – like your socks.If it’s a formal setting, make sure you wear black socks, or socks that match your shoes. They should cover your ankles when you cross your legs.All eyes are on you during the interview, and your potential boss will be paying attention to even the most minor details. It’s human nature and curiosity, if nothing else.
4. Get groomed.Pop in for a quick haircut before your interview and have any facial hair groomed or removed.You might be super proud of your four-inch beard that took six months to grow, but it’s likely to turn your interviewer off and lead them to see you as unkempt and unorganized.
My final tip?
Make sure your clothes are dry cleaned and pressed. This might sound obvious, but it’s so easy to let a few wrinkles slide when you’re running to an interview from the office after a long day or doing back to back interviews.
Findinga job is a full-time job, after all. If nothing else, keep a small hand steamer at home and/or the office and use it to quickly remove any wrinkles so your clothes always look fresh and neat.
And finally, be conscious of the environment you’re walking into and show respect fortheir culture by how you dress.
What are your questions about dressing for interviews? Email me you – we’d love to hear from you.
Are you interested in speaking with an image consultant who will be brutally honest with you? Here are some resources to consider or simply search for an image consultant in your area:
Image Consultant – Chicago
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Wardrobe Stylist – Los Angeles