Dressing for the job interview

Your mother may have taught you not to judge a book by its cover, but that saying doesn’t hold true when you go on a job interview. You can’t create a second “first impression,” and your general appearance is going to create an impression that you may not be able to overcome.

The professional recruiter who has visited my internship class to talk with my students many times over the past few years has told a story about a young man who came to an interview wearing a suit that didn’t fit (it was too big). Even though he had excellent credentials and seemed to be the perfect candidate for the job, the managers in charge of hiring weren’t going to consider him because he looked so sloppy. The recruiter convinced them to give him a second chance, and then she called him and coached him on how to dress for his second interview. He got the job, but only because he had someone who went to bat for him and then told him something he should have figured out for himself.

My book’s Appendix L: Dressing for the interview provides detailed suggestions about what to wear (and what not to wear), and the topic has been discussed before in this blog. Today, however, I’m going to give a quick overview of some of the best suggestions that I have shared with my students.

  • Dress conservatively, even if you’re going for an interview with a company where you know all the employees wear shorts and t-shirts to work.
    • For men this means a suit (or slacks—not jeans—and a jacket, if you know the organization is casual); a long-sleeved, button-down shirt, a tie, and polished shoes (not sneakers).
    • For women, there are more options, but you still may want to wear a suit, a skirt or slacks/blouse/jacket combination, or a dress & jacket with dressy shoes (not high heels or sandals). If you’re wearing a skirt or dress, make sure it will cover your thighs when you’re seated. Longer skirts are okay, as long as they’re tailored and not flowy.
  • Dark colors are more appropriate than light colors.
  • Jewelry should be kept to a minimum.
  • Scent should be kept to a minimum.
  • Make sure that you have cleaned off any cat or dog hair from your clothing. Carry a lint brush in your car.
  • Men: Trim your facial hair!
  • Women: Wear a minimal amount of makeup.
  • Carry a padfolio or small briefcase. Women should either lock their purse in the car or carry a very small purse.
  • If you’re a smoker, make sure your don’t carry the smell of your tobacco products. Try not to smoke on your way to the interview. You may also want to carry some type of breath freshener to use immediately before the interview.

Most importantly, don’t use the characters from television or movies as your role models for how to dress at work. Much of what you will see there is not appropriate for a genuine workplace.