Your Next InterviewThere are plenty of people out there willing to give you advice on picking out the perfect outfit for an interview. But they all tell you the same things: dress professionally, iron your pants, look neat. Your clothing, though, can be your edge to make sure that an interviewer can tell you apart from the hundred other resumes on his desk. These ten tips will make sure that you can take advantage of your appearance, from your haircut to your accessories.
Quit smoking.This is not about health. This is about getting hired. Studies have shown that employers are becoming more reluctant to hire smokers every year. Employees who smoke often need more sick leave, and constant smoke breaks cut down on productivity. And even if you don’t light up in front of him, your interviewer will probably be able to tell that you smoke. There are so many potential tipoff’s, from smells to nervous finger twitches that it’s rare that an interviewer will miss your nicotine addiction — and there’s no law preventing employers from discriminating against smokers. Don’t think you can manage to stop smoking? At least make the effort to hide the evidence:
Accessorize for your profession.A computer programmer shouldn’t drag a computer along to a job interview just as a lawyer wouldn’t bring along a law library. But the right accessory can add to your credibility in an interviewer’s mind: a USB drive on your keychain telegraphs that you are comfortable with technology. A quality briefcase or portfolio tells a prospective employer that you want to be seen as professional. For some jobs, a wedding ring (or the lack thereof) can also be useful. Wearing a ring implies that you are family-oriented. As an employee, you will be reliable and will work hard to keep your job. However, since you are married, you are also sure to have responsibilities outside of the office. You won’t be able to stay late, travel and take on other strenuous tasks that a younger, unattached employee could be expected to handle. While these are, of course, stereotypes, interviewers take these assumptions into account. They can’t ask your marital status in an interview, but your ring finger can say a lot.
Accessories that can start a conversation are generally a good idea, although you should be subtle about it. If you can sneak in a pin or watch or other accessory that is memorable, though — especially if you get a chance to discuss it — you can ensure that you’ll stick in the mind of your interviewer at least a little better than anyone else interviewing for the job. Wearing an item that announces your collegiate affiliations can be a good example, especially if you went to school locally. Odds are in your favor that if you’re interviewing at a company with any kind of local roots, your interviewer will know someone who attended your college. Wear your class ring or another piece of subtle jewelry — your college bookstore probably sells half a dozen different items emblazoned with your school’s colors, even beyond the ever-present t-shirts and jackets. Be creative: think subtle ties, watches or even a scarf.
Ignore your mother’s tips.Ignore your mother’s tips — unless she’s Lesley Scott or, perhaps, one of a handful of other fashionistas. Suggestions like ‘a nice mid-calf skirt’ or offers to borrow a classy strand of pearls are meant to make sure that you match your mother’s idea of dressed up. And, as much as your mother means well by you, your mother may have a far more conservative approach to wardrobe than is ideal for landing a job today. Gentlemen, you have it easy. Styles don’t change quite as significantly for men. But, unless your father is exactly the same build, don’t borrow his suit. And even if you can share clothing comfortably, you’ll give off vibes that you’re playing dress up. If you are looking for advice, though, there’s plenty available. You can talk to friends and family (preferably those who have recently been through the interviewing process themselves), contact your college’s career center (most provide extensive help even for alumni), or hire a professional — an image consultant, a career coach, a personal stylist or a business protocol expert. All these consultants do the same thing: they help you look your very best.
Learn to tie a full-Windsor knot.Just as you would never tie your shoes halfway, you shouldn’t only take half steps on the rest of your clothing. Ruth Haag, author of Hiring and Firing, makes it clear why you should go the extra mile: “A half-Windsor looks like you are a little boy who couldn't figure out how to tie a tie. Normally, the half-Windsor slides a bit sideways and looks bulky. It basically unties itself. The half-Windsor says, ‘I am a bumpkin.’ The full-Windsor, on the other hand, looks crisp and neat and the knot stays in place. The full-Windsor says, ‘I am a professional.’” Learning to tie a full-Windsor is not a single gender tip, either. For those women who choose to wear a tie, it is a must!
Get a haircut.Get a haircut, refresh your dye job and generally spend some time on your lovely locks. If you can schedule any necessary upkeep time at the salon a few days in advance, you should. This is a just-in-case precaution, especially useful if you’re visiting a new hairdresser. A little extra time gives you a chance to correct a cut that emphasizes a cowlick or a dye job that comes out bright pink. On the day your interview, avoid wearing a hat, unless you’ll be able to keep it on during the interview — a rarity. Try to avoid weather, as well: wind, rain and other forces of nature can’t be stopped but you can often limit the damage. You should also bring along any tools that you need to repair the damage: comb, brush, hairspray, etc, although they should stay in the car if possible.
Don’t take most advice on color choices.Some interview experts suggest red and other powerful colors to help demonstrate to an employer that you are active and vibrant, while others say that bright colors can cause an interviewer to ‘listen’ to your clothes, rather than you. ‘Red is a power color.’ ‘Red is intimidating.’ ‘White will wash you out.’ ‘White is classic and conservative.’ Ignore the well-meaning advice of individuals attempting to assign a color palate for your wardrobe. Instead, you should focus on the colors that you know you look good in. Rather than trying to conform to others’ expectations of the ideal interview color, you need to focus on making sure that you look your best.
The only color pattern that is out, no matter what, is plaid. It’s distracting and, even if you’re a big burly Scotsman, you run the risk of reminding your interviewer of a Catholic school girl. And the jobs catering towards applicants with that appearance are few and far between.
Moisturize.Wear facial moisturizer — even if you’re male! An interviewer will spend most of his time with you looking at your face. While your overall appearance is very important, your face is absolutely crucial. If you’re going to wear makeup, it needs to be perfect, as well as appropriate. Make sure to brush your teeth, remove any dry skin and generally make sure your face looks perfect. A little lotion is actually one of the simplest steps you can take to improving your appearance before an interview.
Wear clothes that you wear in real life.Rather than having one suit that you only pull out of your closet for interviews, choose to interview in an outfit that you’ll actually be comfortable wearing. If you aren’t comfortable in a professional suit, the odds aren’t good that you’ll be comfortable working in an environment that you’d routinely be required to wear a suit. Furthermore, image artist Sarah Shah suggests that wearing inauthentic clothing can make your interviewer uncomfortable: “If your clothes aren't authentic, then you don't feel like yourself, and you won't be yourself. You can't be yourself when you are dressed up like someone else. The interviewer will actually feel the disconnect and that feeling will become distrust of you.”
Never wear a new outfit to a job interview.You want to look like a million bucks, and how do you know that an outfit you haven’t been able to wear before will look good? Out of the clothes that you already have, pick low maintenance clothes. An interview is not the place for that shirt that always bunches up or that skirt that gets all turned around. Rather than running the risk of having to readjust your clothing — and coming across as fidgeting, choose an outfit that stays in place. Marilyn Suttle, a workplace relationship expert, suggests trying on the outfit you plan to wear ahead of time: “See how long you can go without adjusting your clothes. Also, check yourself in the mirror ten minutes and then twenty minutes later to see if everything stays in place.” You should also keep an eye — or, rather, an ear — out for any noises your outfit makes as you move around. You don’t want your interviewer listening to your clothing, instead of to you. But every time your shirt crinkles, that’s exactly what will happen.
Dress to fit in at your prospective employer.Melissa Gullickson, an account executive at MassMedia Corporate Communications dressed formally for her interviews: “I once walked into an interview at a jeans-only ad agency and felt so silly in my conservative black suit.” She recommends checking out the office ahead of time, if you can. If not, Gullickson recommends calling the receptionist: most are willing to help out. In general, if you can discover what everyday wear at the company question is, you should attempt to dress just a notch beyond that. For a jeans and t-shirt environment, go to jeans and a button up shirt. For a suit and tie environment, go with an exceptionally nice suit. Being able to fit it goes far beyond just matching to the style, though. Consider these fashion faux pas:
Your clothing should reflect the goals and mindset of the organization you hope to join. Think about what you’re wearing in terms of how well it fits in.
Beyond these tips, there’s one overall philosophy you should consider when planning your outfit: Keep it simple, stupid. If you aren’t familiar with the philosophy of KISS, you need to learn it now. Keep your outfit, your accessories — heck, even your resume — simple. There’s a reason that basic black and easily adaptable outfits remain popular year after year — and it’s the same reason that, when you’ve put together an ideal interview outfit, you can stick with it.
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