Dress for Success -or- Professionalism vs. the Interview

Dressing professionally is never more important than when seeking employment.  When a hiring manager gets their first look at a prospective employee – for the sake of this article that would be you – what do you want them to think?  Let’s see if I can help you make them think, “Wow! I want that person on my team!”

I am constantly amazed by just how casual this world has become.  I have seen prospective employees wearing jeans, t-shirts, flip-flops, ill-fitting clothing, dirty clothing, sporting all manner of piercings and tattoos (more on that, specifically, later) unkempt hair and a general outward appearance of apathy.  I find myself wondering about the thought processes of these individuals while they are dressing themselves.  It seems to me that in order to get a job – a decent, well-paying, respectable job – one needs to actually care not only about what skills one can offer (which is obviously important) but also how one appears to a prospective employer.  A good first impression is not necessarily the most important thing in the corporate world, but it certainly helps.

In my opinion, it does not matter if you are applying for fry cook at McDonalds, a call-center representative, a sales manager or the company CEO – it is always a good idea to dress professionally for your initial interview and then let your employer dictate the dress code thereafter.  Also, once dress code has been discussed, stick to it!  This, of course, applies to all jobs, unless you are applying for a position with a company that promotes self-expression such as the little store on the corner that specializes in original vinyl recordings or the little bead and yarn shop with the wacky owner, or the trendy art gallery downtown.  Even then, it is better to ask how you should dress for an interview than risk showing up in something inappropriate and being turned down solely based on your appearance.

Speaking of the corporate world, I’ve been in it for quite a while now; long enough to have a good idea of what the word “professional” means.  And while I may not be a hiring manager, or one who has any say in hiring practices, I have observed much and have had multiple discussions about this very subject with those who are in such positions.  I made copious mental notes and serve them up for you now, on the virtual silver platter. 

LADIES:

  • Go easy on the make-up and jewelry.  You are there to discuss how your skills can benefit the company, not show them how well you can accessorize or demonstrate your skill with an eye pencil.
  • Do not wear perfume.  Seriously.  This one is pretty important, folks.  If you must wear perfume, go easy with the application!  Keep in mind that many people are sensitive to artificial or overwhelming scents; an allergic reaction can end your interview before it starts.  Also, if you have a thing for patchouli oil…just don’t.  OK?
  • Wear clothing that is comfortable and fits well.  Clothing that is tight, revealing, loose or ill-fitting is inappropriate.  Not only that but if you are fidgeting with your clothes (or jewelry, or hair) during the interview, you run the risk of seeming insincere.  It’s okay to be trendy, but make a concerted effort to do it in a professional, well-put-together way.
  • Wear your hair away from your face.  Think pony-tail, French twist, clip or barrette.  Having your hair in your face during an interview is a distraction to both you and your interviewer.  If you are constantly tucking stray tresses behind your ear, your interviewer is more likely to focus on your movements than your words.
  • Skirts should be no shorter than one inch above your knee.  Seriously.  I realize that short skirts are the thing right now and that some companies don’t care if you wear them – but do you know that when you go in for an interview?  No, you don’t.  Short, tight clothing just isn’t appropriate, so let’s not and say we did. 
  • If you wear a skirt, always wear nylons.  Forget comfortable and go with professional and modest.
  • If you wear nylons, please, for the love of all that is good and decent in this world, do not wear open-toe shoes or sandals.  In fact, open-toe shoes, sandals, flip-flops and other footwear such as this appear on the “inappropriate” items list of the dress codes of most professional places of employment.

 GENTLEMEN:

  • Shave.  Unless you have a fully-grown beard or mustache, please shave.  A five o’clock shadow at nine o’clock in the morning is just lazy.
  • Make an attempt to tame your Harry Potter hair.  If your hair naturally sticks up at all angles, and you have done everything to tame it with little to no success, that’s one thing.  However, if you look like you’ve just rolled out of bed…well, I’ve already used the word lazy.
  • Wear slacks or freshly laundered khakis – with a crease!
  • Wear lace-up shoes.
  • If you wear lace-up shoes, you must wear socks.  I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a well-dressed man come in for an interview wearing no socks!  Do I need to call your attention to that dreaded “inappropriate” items list?  Believe it or not, a lack of socks is considered inappropriate on most dress codes.
  • Wear a button-down shirt.  Ironed and creased in all the right places, please?  If you do not know how to iron, take your shirt to the dry cleaners well before the day of your interview and don’t forget to pick it up the day before!  The cost of dry-cleaning one measly shirt is a small price to pay for looking crisp, clean and professional.

NEATNESS AND GENERAL APPEARANCE:

  • Wash.  Wash yourself and your clothes.  There’s nothing worse than sitting in a small room with someone who smells less than awesome.
  • Clean and clip your fingernails.  Yes, believe it or not prospective employers do, actually, look at your hands.  They’ll probably shake your hand, too.  Dirty or ragged fingernails are a small sign that you don’t really care about yourself.  If you don’t care yourself, why should a prospective employer think you’ll care about your job?  Details, people!  Details!
  • Iron your clothing.  Wrinkled shirts, pants, blazers or any article of clothing only shows that you are…oh – there’s that word again…lazy.  No one wants to hire someone they view as lazy.
  • Jeans, t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, and sneakers are unacceptable.  Period.

 TATTOOS & PIERCINGS

I told you I’d say more on this subject.  I have no issues with tattoos and piercings in general.  Hey, whatever floats your boat, right?  And, not to ooze clichés but, it’s your body and who am I to judge?  Tattoos and piercings are a bit more widely accepted these days, but tread lightly with prospective employers with regard to body personalization.  (Go me with the political correct-ness!)  I’m also not saying you should hide who you are – an employer needs and wants to hire the real you – but until they get to know who you really are, do you really want to flaunt that?  Well…maybe you do.  Maybe you’re a take-me-as-I-am kind of person, and that’s fine.  I guess what I’m trying to say is this is a touchy subject and use your best judgment.

 FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

  • Don’t arrive 30 minutes early and sit in your car smoking, or fixing your makeup, or chatting on your cell phone.  If you are there early, go in.  Let the receptionist (if there is one) know who you are and why you are there.  You may even say, “I know I’m early, but…”  Most places of employment have a lobby or waiting room and will encourage you to have a seat inside.
  • Go over your resume so you know it in detail and be prepared to answer for any lapses in employment.  (Keep your eyes open for an upcoming article regarding Master Resumes.)
  • Give a firm handshake.  Don’t present a limp or “wet noodle” handshake.  You can almost guarantee that you will be passed over for another candidate.  Now, the flip-side of that coin is to try not to break your prospective employer’s hand, either.  Many hiring managers base their entire opinion of you solely on your handshake. 
  • Eye contact is always extremely important.  Look your interviewer in the eye as you shake their hand, as you answer questions.  Use caution, however, as too much direct eye contact can be viewed as hostile or defensive whereas not enough eye contact can be viewed as evasive or untruthful.  Easier said than done, but try to find that happy medium.
  • Drive someone else’s car.  I realize this one is a long-shot, but think about it.  If you drive a beater, or something with a smashed rear quarter panel, or something with a hood that is a different color from the driver’s side door, which is a different color than the trunk, what impression are you making.  You know these people are watching you, right?  They’re judging you from the moment you pull into the parking lot and thinking about things they could never say out loud, legally speaking.  So consider borrowing someone else’s car, or possibly having someone drop you off.  This is not to say that once you have been offered the position you should hide what you drive, but just another way to put forth a professional first impression.

THANK YOU NOTES:

Do you really need to send a thank you note to your interviewer?  Not really, but it’s a nice touch.  This is usually reserved for higher-level positions.  Does receiving a thank you note (for your time and consideration) tip the scales in your favor?  Maybe.  Just maybe.

3 thoughts on “Dress for Success -or- Professionalism vs. the Interview”

  1. I love this article. The author is intelligent and writes in a very eloquent manner. My only addition to this gentleman’s commentary is to indicate that unless you are working in a field where your physical attributes, adornments, and modifications are more valued than your cognitive and intellectual contributions, flaunting the above will just distract from your actual qualifications.

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