Watch What You Wear to Your Job Interviews

I once heard about a guy who made about $80K/year going to an interview in his tennis clothes, because he had a game scheduled afterwards.  His roommate advised him against it, but the job seeker said “If they don’t like me for who I am, then I don’t want to work there.”

The majority of job seekers, desperate for a job, often are too willing to be whomever the hiring company wants them to be.  In that sense, this guy gets it. On the other hand, a little common sense goes a long way.

When he wears tennis whites to an interview, “who he is” is someone lacking respect for himself, the interviewer, and the process.  His attire says “This interview is less important than my tennis game.”

We judge books by their cover, and we judge people by how they look.  You may know who you are, but when an interviewer doesn’t know you, he uses what clues he has to decide for himself who you are.  If that’s sufficient for him, you’ll never have the chance to correct his impression.  And although you may not be aware of it, like the tennis attire example, sometimes that first impression isn’t far from wrong.

Men with white collar jobs should err on the side of conservative and over dressed.  Just because a company dresses casually doesn’t mean you should arrive in Dockers and a three-button sport shirt.  You can skip the tie, but opt for a pressed, button down shirt; sports jacket; and ironed dress pants.

If you work in the field and wear a uniform or jeans, boots, and a hardhat, you have two options.  Going home, cleaning up, and arriving in pressed pants and a button down is impressive.  But showing up in your work clothes, unless you’re filthy, is equally acceptable.

The former conveys how important the interview is to you and your sense of pride in your appearance.  The latter says you value your current employer and feel it’s important to give them your time.  Make sure you tell the interviewer that.

Dressing conservatively is equally important for women.  Dress pants are fine.  A suit is always appropriate, no matter the color, but if it’s a conservative company, they’ll be more receptive to a quieter color.  Keep your skirt no shorter than 2” above your knee.  No cleavage.  No 5” heels.  Limited jewelry.  Pantyhose always.

If you’re interviewing for a job in a restaurant or a store, casual dress is acceptable, but not jeans, visible lingerie, or flip flops.  Go easy on the hair gel.  Play down some of your visual uniqueness such as wild hair styles, piercings and tattoos – advice that doesn’t apply only to those under 25.  Ask in the interview what’s acceptable and what’s not.  Unloading a truck is going to have more leeway than waiting tables in a hotel banquet room.

Both men and women of all ages should skip perfume, cologne or aftershave.  What you think makes you smell divine, may remind the interviewer of someone they dislike, which is then transferred to you. Some people wear too much scent.  If you can smell it, clean half of it off.   Additionally, many are sensitive to the smell of any scented personal product, especially when used to excess.  I’m one of those people.

Job seekers who insist on appearing how they want to miss the point.  No matter how you plan to demonstrate your ability to excel, if your appearance doesn’t support that, the interviewer won’t hear it.  By dressing conservatively and with common sense, you’re not changing who you are; rather you’re allowing it to come through by eliminating the negative impact of your attire.   You’re also making a positive statement about your maturity and decision making skills prior to even opening your mouth.

Not only is it human nature to default to “no,” but in this economy, employers look for reasons to narrow the field, questing for the perfect person.  Clean, neat and professional helps your cause.  Dressing the way you want to makes the hiring authority’s job of elimination, easier, because both choices say who you are very clearly.

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