Saturday, March 22, 2014

Job Interview - What do I wear?

I know a lot about presenting for interviews but my experience doesn’t come from my image consulting/styling work.

It comes from spending 20 years in CBD corporate, doing specialized tax work, including many years of investment banking. In the process, I recruited hundreds of candidates for teams within these large firms.  I have seen the best and walking around the CBD at lunchtime has allowed me to see the worst.

This blog will take you through some non negotiable no brainers in interview dressing. But bear in mind, that even something which is non negotiable may need to be negotiated in specific circumstances. So if I say "you can never wear sandals to an interview", but you broke your foot and it’s still healing, then the non negotiable becomes negotiable.  If you provide specific facts to your situation, I can take that into account. In the absence of specifics, here we go….

Never wear jeans

“Never wear jeans” to an interview applies whether you are a 16 yo who is going for a job at McDonalds or a person going for a cleaning job or someone going to a mine site for an interview as a blue collar tradesman.  Why? There will be others in jeans & qualifications & experience aside, if you dress smarter than them, you will get the job, as long as you don’t look like a goose. Frankly I have never seen a smart pair of dress slacks make anyone look like a goose.  But there may be a situation where jeans are appropriate, I cant think of one. If you can, by all means let me know.

Never wear stocking & open toe shoes

The other one is always wear stockings & never wear open toed shoes or sandals. I don’t care how hot it is and I certainly don’t care how good your legs are, these two pre-requisites are virtually not negotiable – unless you want to give me some more specific facts to consider.

Not all offices are created equal

In the absence of specifics, I’d like to start with dress for interviews for office jobs because more than half of us work in offices. Yes, offices vary – some are fashion firms, art galleries or flamboyant creative companies, others are more conservative - think telcos, finance, property, accounting, medical etc. Then there are the people professions like retail, hospitality, teaching & aged care, amongst others. 

Jobs within these industries vary too – so the accountant in a fashion firm or fashion magazine will dress noticeably more conservatively than the designer or fashion editor. The marketing or sales person in a finance company will dress more conservatively than the same person in an advertising firm.

Most office interview outfits are created equal

If you are approaching an office interview at entry level to supervisor to mid manager level, if you don’t dress in a tailored type suit (matched or harmoniously unmatched) you are doing yourself a disservice. Why? Because there will be other with whom you are competing who will choose that style of dress and when that happens, you will be behind the eight ball.

The interview has higher dress standards than the job

The first thing you need to remember is that what you wear on the job is not the standard by which you dress for the interview. The interview demands the highest of standards. You can relax those standards at the job, but if you want to be promoted, there’s a whole other blog post on how much to relax them by. Let me know if you want to discuss that and how to work casual Friday too.

Business casual

Let's think of it another way. Alot of offices have a business casual policy as it improves morale. Basically this means suit not required and you can relax your separates to say chinos or a polo instead of business suits worn as separates. 

Why would you ever attend an interview for an office job in similar relaxed clothing, when it is unlikely that you know whether the office has a dress down policy. Even if it does, an interview demands higher dress standards than the job. 

If you don’t look the part, someone else will

The second thing you need to remember is that you are competing against others for the job.  If you have similar experience and qualifications to the next fellow, and you are dressed better/smarter, you will be in the lead for the job.  That’s why there are no brainers in interview clothing, which apply no matter what category of job you are applying for:

* Clothing that fits & isn’t pulling & bunching etc
* Everything pressed beautifully
* No scuffed heels/toes
* No peek-a-boob shirt
* No laddered stocking (keep a spare in your bag)
* No cleavage
* Knee length skirts
* No chipped nail polish
* Cover all tattoos
* Remove visible body piercings
* No VPL
* No jeans
I could go on, but all you have to do is google this.

The subconscious indicators

Thirdly, there are items which put you ahead sub consciously.
A jacket is one of them. If you are walking into an air conditioned office, in a pair of smart pants or skirt (code for not a flamboyant outfit), then wear the jacket. It will give you credibility and authority & maturity that your non jacket competitors will never bring to the table.

Others may include:

* panty hose
* the closed toe shoe
* a neckline that has a piece of jewellery filling the décolletage space
* hair tied back (to avoid the “glamour look” or fiddling with it when you   are nervous)
* a heel (but not to the extent that they are uncomfortable to walk in) - many studies show that you have more presence & authority in a heel than a flat
* pulling out a notebook & asking if you can take notes
  (& actually taking some notes)
* sending a thank you email

If you want me to expand on the subconscious indicators, it’ll be a whole other blog. Just ask.

Appearances cant be distracting - ever

Fourth, we need to talk about distractions.

An interviewer looks for certain preliminary things. Once he/she finds them, he/she ticks them off in their head (or a checklist – yes, the big firms do have them). Once ticked off, he/she can move to the juicy stuff – namely your background, experience, communication skills & your fit within the team.

If the interviewer gets distracted with the preliminaries, it’s like you are experiencing a road hump during the interview.  Road humps are not good especially if your competition isn’t experiencing them.

One of these is that you are prompt & punctual. The other is that you dressed/groomed appropriately, so your clothing doesn’t become a distraction to the juicy stuff.  

In a non flamboyant office job, the interviewer doesn’t want to see that you stand out sartorially speaking.  They just want to see that you fit in.

You see, in an office job, the interviewer doesn’t give two hoots if you are wearing a red top or a blue top or a white top. But if you wear the colour that flatters your face, it will ensure the highest level of engagement from the interviewer as they wont think that you had a late night & don’t care about getting the job.   

Even if everyone seems to be wearing white tops, the interviewer doesn’t don’t care – unless the top looks sloppy.  All they want is to tick off appearance so they can get to the juicy stuff.  If colour is your thing, wear it, but in conservative industries, head to toe colour, at entry-mid manager level, may create an impression that causes distraction. Once you get to the executive levels, you can do whatever you like, but even at the senior manager levels, too much whimsy at interview time isnt advised. 

Interviewers don’t care of you wear a print or a plain top. But if the print is really eye assaulting or optical illusiony, it will distract the interviewer from the juicy stuff at some stage during the interview.

The interviewer doesn’t care of you are wearing a dress and a jacket or a suit. If its business like, as long as it suits you and flatters you and it’s fine.

If you fill your neckline with a bold necklace it will distract from the juicy stuff compared to a more subtle necklace.  Please don’t try to tell me that you need the bold piece to show your personality. If it’s a non flamboyant office and you go with a bold piece next to your face, it will create distractions for the interviewer. Accept that & dont complain if you wear it & dont get the job. 

So will a bangle which jingle jangles during the interview.

You can wear a bright shoe with a suit, but sometimes the combination of too many bright pieces will be too distracting – so you need to assess the whole package before you finalise the outfit.

Whatever you wear, if there is a pulled thread or its creased (especially around your face) or its tugging/pulling, I guarantee you that during a 45 minute interview, it will be noticed & it will distracted from the juicy stuff. 

The other thing that gets noticed is your cuffs because your hands sit on/above the table in plain sight. If your cuffs are too long and you have folded them up - reconsider. Get them altered - nothing looks more "I couldnt be bothered to go to the trouble to do this right" or "if I take short cuts with my dress, I will take short cuts in your business".  

You can wear a contrasting jacket, just be 100% sure its your best colour and the fit/trims don't remind anyone of the 80s.

Yes, you can wear a Mary Jane shoe in a conservative colour, but Mary Janes have a girly softness about them than a non strappy pump doesn’t have. As long as you are aware of that, then by all means, wear them if you want to.

For the non flamboyant office jobs, I suggest against wearing fashion trends like oversize coats, or booties or full waist pleated pants, chunky sweaters or anything that suggests a previous era. I would even avoid a small scale gingham print shirt because it will remind some interviewers of Pizza Hut tablecloths.

Another thing to note – no matter how lovely you think you look, if the interviewer comments on your lovely shirt, shoes, necklace, brooch or whatever, I can guarantee you that your chances of getting the job just plummeted. Why? The interviewer wasn’t bonding with you & your love of fashion. They only mention your appearance because the candidate’s juicy stuff isn’t impressing them. If the juicy stuff was impressing them, they wouldn’t be talking about your clothes.

You see, you cant risk wearing anything that could create an image or connotation that isn’t about the juicy stuff. If you think “this gingham top wont look like a Pizza Hut tablecloth because its blue”, I can guarantee you that some interviewers will go there. You cannot afford to dress even if the distraction odds are low. You need to dress in a way that there are no distraction odds that you can think of. I’d also get the opinion of someone more experienced to see if the outfit conjures up anything you haven’t thought of.


For anyone who thinks that the corporate look means no personality – it doesn’t. You can wear colour, just make it appropriate. You can wear jewellery, just make it appropriate. You can wear an unmatched suit, just make it harmonious rather than highly contrasting.  

An interview is not the place to show an interviewer that you love the boho style or the rock chic style or a romantic style or a whimsical style. The style that will get you the most points is a classic style. You need to adapt to that for the sake of that 1 hour & possibly a second hour for a second interview. If you think that is too hard, you may need to change you line of work. 

Smart candidates think like an employer

Finally, when I hire someone to do a job, all other things being equal, I want the person who demonstrates the most professionalism. Professionalism implies you care. If I am paying you a salary, I'd better see that your care or I will cross you off my list. In fact, if I see candidates in suits and candidates in relaxed clothing, it’s a no brainer who I will go for. Think like an interviewer and you’ll come round to my way of thinking.....

1 comment:

  1. Tks very much for your post.

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