Dress the Part for a Job Interview

Of course, you want to create a good impression in a job interview, right? Well this might come as a sad but true fact for the graduating college student who's used to rolling out of bed, slipping into flip flops and heading to class in the clothes you slept in, but very few aspects of the job interview process are more important than your appearance.

Sure, you might believe that your appearance is superficial and it's your skills that should land you a job. But remember that you've never met the persons who will be interviewing you. They have your resume and background in front of them, but your grooming and the appropriateness of your clothes are the first direct observations they're going to have about you. If you fail the first test, you'll have a hard time regaining momentum.

Defining appropriate dress

Today, many companies have a pretty relaxed dress code, and what's considered acceptable business attire in one industry would never cut it in another. If you're going to work for a small construction company, odds are you'll be able to look far more casual than if, say, you're in banking, insurance, or law — where the navy blue business suit is, and likely will always be, the norm. If you're applying for a creative position, such as for an interior design firm or fashion magazine, the recruiters will be paying more attention to how you put yourself together than they would if you're applying to be a telemarketer.

Generally speaking and in most industries, it's still expected that job candidates get dressed up. For your first interview with any organization, wear a suit. This is one situation where it's far more excusable to be overdressed than dressed too casually. Dress conservatively. Don't consider this an opportunity to make a fashion statement (your goal is to demonstrate that you'd fit in, not stand out). If you're called back for a second interview, many people follow a general rule to dress just a little bit nicer than the hiring interviewer was dressed at the first interview — if she was wearing a polo shirt, you'd wear a collared shirt; if he was wearing a collared shirt, you'd wear a collared shirt with a tie; if she was in a suit, you're out of luck, you need to get your suit out again.

The only exception to dressing up for an interview — and don't expect this to happen very often — is when the interviewer directly tells you to dress casually.

Making wise interview choices

The classic interview garb for men hasn't changed much since the 1950s. Wear a neutral or dark (blue, black, or gray are best) suit or sport jacket with color-coordinated trousers. Wear a tie, even if you will never wear one again after you get the job. Wear calf-length dress socks that match the suit. Always wear a belt if your pants have belt holes. Make sure your shoes are leather, clean, and polished (again, black is best).

Women should wear a classic suit or a simple dress with a jacket; black, navy blue, dark green, dark red, burgundy, and gray are all good color choices. Try to dress better than what the position calls for, but make sure you don't outdress everyone there. And avoid anything that's tight, revealing, or too trendy. It may be the latest Parisian fashion but it probably won't impress the interviewer.

If you are at all uncertain, pay attention to how business people dress on television — the evening news and even soap operas might give you a clue about business attire. If you can, find an employee of the interviewing company and ask about dress code and how strictly it's enforced. If you have time, make a trip to your potential new office building at the end of a workday and watch how the people coming out are dressed. If you still sense a fashion emergency coming on, go to a department store, head for the suit section, and throw yourself at the mercy of an experienced salesperson.

Expect to pay a little bit of money for your interview clothes, but the extra dollars get you quality fabrics, a good fit, and durability. This is a direct investment in your future, and even most fashion experts will tell both men and women that a well-tailored, conservative suit could last most of your career.

Adding the final touches

Here are a few more tips that can help — or ruin — your first impression with the interviewers:

  • Keep jewelry to a minimum (a watch, a wedding ring, that's about it!).

  • Carry your resume, references, other paperwork, a pen, and a notepad in a nice briefcase or portfolio that's made of leather, not vinyl.

  • Empty your pockets of bulging or jingling items, such as cigarette packs and loose change.

  • If you're a smoker or coffee drinker, pop a breath mint just before the interview (just make sure it's gone before you go into the interview).

  • Women should wear low-heeled, conservative dress shoes that match the outfit.

  • Men should be clean shaven. If you have a beard or goatee, have it professionally trimmed before the interview.

  • Make sure your fingernails are trimmed and clean. Get a manicure if necessary. For women, clear or no nail polish is best.