Job and Career Expert Phil Blair
Generally speaking, how you dress for a job interview won’t get you the job, but it can easily jeopardize your chances.
“Clothes don’t make the man or woman, but in the first moments of a first meeting with a hiring manager, they speak for you before you can speak for yourself,” says Phil Blair. “What they say may prove indelible.”
Blair is the author of “Job Won! 500,000 Hires and Counting” (Author House, 2013). For more than three decades he has co-owned Manpower San Diego, the largest Manpower franchise in the U.S. His firm is San Diego’s fourth largest for-profit employer, providing approximately 3,500 jobs daily.
At the end of the interview cycle, when the interviewer is reviewing stacks of resumes and notes, you want the interviewer to remember what you said, not what you were wearing. Your clothing selection is a visual description of your taste and style. “It’s 100% you, good or bad,” says Blair. “Like a resume, phone call, cover letter or thank you note, your wardrobe is a tool. It should be used to enhance your overall presentation, to add subtle emphasis to desirable qualities like strong self-esteem, organization and responsibility.” People who dress well generally look and feel confident and do well. Once you know the dress code at the company you are interviewing with show up for the interview one step dressier than expected. It’s a sign of respect and visually you look like you belong at that company in a leadership role.
Have an outfit or two for those first few interviews. Remember, an interviewer at Company B doesn’t know you wore the same suit to an interview at Company A.
So let’s review the basics:
For women. Conservative dress is essential. This is absolutely not the time to show cleavage or be provocative. You risk making the interviewer uncomfortable and it suggests poor judgment. I feel this way every day at the work place; cleavage is inappropriate and degrades women as professionals. I also think in these days of concern about sexual harassment, it sends the wrong message.
For men. “I tell cash-strapped college kids to take one dress shirt to the cleaners and have it professionally laundered, starched and pressed,” says Blair. “Use that shirt for job interviews. As soon as the interview is over, take off the shirt, hang it up. You can get quite a few wearings out of your two-dollar investment at the cleaners.”
Neckwear. Choose a tie or scarf that smartly accentuates your outfit. Don’t use an accessory to make a statement or start a conversation. You don’t want to be remembered as the guy with the really strange tie.
Shoes. You can’t go wrong with black, leather and polished. Make sure your shoes aren’t at the end of their days. I think it was Aristotle Onassis who wisely said, “You can tell much about a man by the state of his fingernails and his shoes.” Be conservative. That advice applies to women too: No stiletto heels.
Accessories. Maximize with the minimum. Wear a wristwatch. It shows you value time. Don’t wear an oversized, three-pound diver’s watch or something with Mickey Mouse on the face. Wear minimal jewelry that is subtle and stylish.
Presumably, you’ll be coming to your interview with a purse, briefcase or business portfolio, the latter two containing extra copies of your resume and other materials you think might be useful or necessary. They should be business-appropriate. A daypack or some sort of goofy messenger bag is not.
Leave everything else in your car—including your cell phone. You won’t need to call anyone during the interview. “If I’m doing an interview and dressed in a suit and tie, I expect the candidate to be similarly dressed,” says Blair. “I’ve had young people come to meetings wearing T-shirts and jeans. By underdressing for our meeting, they’re disrespecting me and the moment. If you don’t know the dress code for an interview, call the company and ask. Or simply dress as nicely as you can. Nobody’s going to mark you down for presenting yourself too well. ”