What You Wear Can Get You Somewhere… or Nowhere

by Tom Keith, former Director of Business Development

You roll out of bed late, take a shower, and quickly get yourself together. No time to eat breakfast, so you head out the door. Before leaving, you check the mirror.

  • Hair combed? Check.
  • Shirt and tie? Check.
  • Khaki pants? Check.
  • Clean shoes? Check.

“I look good,” you tell yourself, dressed to impress for your 10:00 interview.

But you aren’t. Not even close.

When preparing for job interviews, many students mistakenly believe that “professional attire” means putting on a tie or wearing a blouse. This couldn’t be further from the truth. On too many occasions, young men and women show up underdressed for information sessions, career fairs, and other opportunities to interact with potential employers.

Walgreen’s hosted an information session on campus during the fall to recruit students for its management-trainee program. Of the 17 students who signed up, only seven showed up—three appropriately dressed in suits. The others wore everything from blue jeans and tennis shoes to un-tucked shirts and baseball caps. It was embarrassing.

Your appearance and non-verbal communication say just as much, if not more, about you than how you answer an interviewer’s questions. James Thornton, human resources representative at Humana, has seen it all. “I know hiring managers who have made decisions not to hire based on the attire of the applicant,” he said. “The point is that interviews—even for early-career positions—should always be taken seriously and professional dress should be the norm.”

Here’s an observation from a colleague in the Career Services Office at Virginia Tech University: “If you are primarily remembered for your interview attire, this is probably because you made an error in judgment.”

Jobsearch.com has tips on what to wear for an interview:

Women

  • Solid color, conservative suit
  • Coordinating blouse
  • Closed-toe pumps that match your purse
  • Tan or light hosiery
  • Limited jewelry
  • Neat, professional hairstyle
  • Sparse make-up and perfume
  • Manicured nails
  • Portfolio or briefcase

Men

  • Solid color, conservative suit
  • White or light blue long-sleeved shirt
  • Conservative silk tie
  • Professional shoes
  • Dark socks
  • Very limited jewelry
  • Neat, professional hairstyle
  • Light aftershave
  • Neatly trimmed nails
  • Portfolio or briefcase

Your appearance is crucial. So are hygiene and punctuality. Make sure you shower, shave, comb your hair, brush your teeth, and trim your nails. Arrive early—at least five to 10 minutes before your scheduled interview. The last thing an employer wants, other than an unprepared candidate, is someone who is late to an interview.

While many work environments and company cultures have changed over the last half-century, what hasn’t changed are the expectations of hiring managers. They expect students to be appropriately dressed when attending information sessions, career fairs, and one-on-one interviews.

Bottom line: Make sure you wear a suit any time you anticipate contact with a company representative (hiring manager or otherwise). You get only one chance to make a first impression, and what you wear says a lot about who you are.

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7 comments so far

  1. […] The job interview is where image and substance come together. You must present yourself professionally in how you speak and dress, and even in how you gesture. Tips on creating a great physical image are in the articles What You Wear Can Get You Somewhere…or Nowhere and Looking Cool Isn’t Always Cool When You Interview. You must support a good first impression with a powerful presentation of your talents and experiences. Fortunately, by creating an interview agenda, you can walk into interviews with a clear idea of what you will offer employers – your experiences, talents, and skills – and how you will use your assets to get the job done. […]

  2. nm on

    wow. this is incredibly upsetting information. Do you realize how much it would cost a student to buy everything you deem absolutely necessary for an interview?

  3. […] a recent comment to the article What You Wear Can Get You Somewhere… or Nowhere, a reader voiced concerns about […]

  4. Maily on

    Do you have to wear a suit to every interview, or does it depend on the job?

  5. Eileen Davis on

    Regarding how to dress for interviews, it’s a good rule of thumb to dress up somewhat. We recommend wearing a suit to interviews for professional positions, but when in doubt, ask the person who sets up the interview for guidance on the dress code.

  6. Saislexia on

    Where I can find good quality films?
    Can anyone help me?

  7. vijay on

    nice post for my interview two days from now!
    Thanks


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