“Dress for success” — a phrase everyone hears when preparing for their first interview, but what exactly does this trivial dressing for success mean? In this article I will address several frequently asked questions about looking your best and making a great first impression on your interview, putting to rest any anxiety that may distract you from putting your best foot forward and letting your accomplishments and skills shine through.
Obviously, what you wear on your first interview will depend on a variety of factors: the type of position the interview is for, the company environment, gender, etc. , but there are some steadfast rules that should be followed:
1. What do my clothes say about me?
What you wear to an interview supports your conduct and how you carry yourself. While the physical interview itself, your articulate answers to questions and interpersonal skills, are the most important element of an interview, the way you dress should reflect that you take the opportunity seriously. It also shows that you know the industry and how those employed in your field conduct themselves. Dressing appropriately and professionally for an interview shows a sign of respect to your interviewer.
2. What should I wear to a first interview?
When in doubt dress up. Even in casual work environments it is best to follow this rule. Like I mentioned earlier, it shows that you take the opportunity seriously and that it is something you want to make a good impression for. Men should wear a suit, dress shirt and tie with loafers or some other type of leather dress shoes. A good suit should last between 5 to 10 years, so remember it is an investment in your success! Make sure that the suit is well-tailored and hits the wrist in the sleeves, and comfortably reaches the tops of your shoes. There is nothing worse than a high-water suit. Don’t embarrass yourself, people really do notice.
Women should wear a pant suit or skirt suit (see below for appropriate skirt lengths), a blouse (not too low cut) or dress shirt, and heels or dressy flats. Heels should not be what you would wear to a club and you must be able to walk in them (if you can’t just stick to flats).
3. What is Business Casual and when do you wear it?
Business casual is crisp and classic with clean lines and tends to stray away from the overly trendy. For men and women this usually means khakis and a long-sleeve button-down shirt. Sweaters are also considered appropriate under business casual standards. Men should wear leather shoes and women may wear leather flats. Tennis shoes are NEVER appropriate for business casual interviews. Ties are not generally necessary for business casual attire. Business casual attire is appropriate for company information sessions, career/ job fairs, and when it is indicated by the person who has contacted you to set up the interview. (It is always a good idea to ask the person who contacts you what the dress code is for the interview when you are in doubt.) For more information on business casual attire check out Virginia Tech’s helpful breakdown of what is acceptable: http://www.career.vt.edu/JobSearchGuide/BusinessCasualAttire.html and this breakdown for women from UC Davis:http://washingtonprogram.ucdavis.edu/BusinessCasualWomen.htm
4. The Facial Hair Dilemma
Facial hair is acceptable as long as it is well-groomed and not over-the-top. Remember playing it safe is generally a good thing to keep in mind. You want people to remember what your interview and what you bring to the table, not what you wore or that you had an outlandish ZZ-Top beard.
5. What is the appropriate skirt length for women?
First and foremost, anything that looks like it could be worn to a club should be immediately disregarded. You want to be taken seriously, so make sure your skirt covers the better part of your thigh even when seated. My best advice is to invest in a great pencil skirt that hits just below the knee. Skirts with high slits in the back are not work appropriate, however small slits can be professional and chic. Stockings (hose) should be used in conservative environments and during cold weather. Stick to nude stockings or stockings that match your skirt. As a general rule in the summer it is acceptable to wear a professional skirt without stockings (hose).
6. What colors are acceptable for an interview?
Generally speaking, sticking to classic colors and fabrics are best: black, dark grey, navy blue, and brown. Solids and subtle patterns, such as the power pinstripe, are appropriate. Avoid trying to look too fashion forward in your interview, unless of course you are interviewing for a job in the fashion industry, as you may come off looking too “out there” and save the flashy colors for when you have already secured the job.
Be Attention to Detail: look for any loose or dangling threads, iron and starch your clothes before your interview so that you look crisp and neat. There is nothing that ruins a professional look more than a wrinkled suit or shirt. Wear socks that match your shoes and/or pants. White socks with black pants and black shoes is distracting and looks unprofessional. Observe people in your industry to determine whether things such as piercings and tattoos are acceptable. My word of advice is, when in doubt, play it conservative.