The importance of first impressions at interviews can never be emphasised enough. Dressing appropriately is crucial during the interview as well as when you join the workplace. Even if the company has a casual work environment (this is increasingly common in modern office culture), it’s best to dress formally. Deciding on what outfit to wear to an interview may seem like a challenging task which can leave you feeling flustered and confused. In general, the rule of thumb states that you should dress for one or two levels above the level that you are applying for. For example, if you wish to apply for the position of a hair colour technician at a salon, you wouldn’t dream of going to the interview in a set of overalls.
Actually, the fact of the matter is that it’s not so much that you are aspiring to get the job post solely on the basis of what you wear, it’s just that you would not like to jeopardise the important first impression with poor dressing choices, which in turn could put your candidature out of the reckoning. Experts suggest that while interviewers can decide in 10 seconds if they don’t want you, they take much longer to decide if they do want you. Suitable clothing can help you exude confidence and style and help you express your personality. What you wear to an interview gives a perception (which is often close to reality) of the type of person you really are. At the end of the day, the interviewer is justified in declining to offer the job to an applicant who is inappropriately dressed.
Hence, carefully choosing the right attire can help present yourself as a suitable candidate to hire for the job.
This article will describe the correct and incorrect ways to dress for an interview.
General Tips to Dress Correctly for an Interview
Outfits and Attire
- Three main factors play a role in deciding your outfit: the type of industry that you wish to work in, the weather at the time of the year and the geographic location of the place. For example, if you are applying for the post of a fashion designer, dress up to look chic and stylish as opposed to understated.
- If in doubt, err on the side of caution; over-dress a little bit rather than risk being too casual.
- If you are still in doubt, visit a large department store and request the help of the assistant.
Let’s move on to specific tips for dressing for an interview.
- Please do not dress in a shabby or unkempt manner. Uncombed, scraggly hair, dirty fingernails and food stains on your blouse will leave a bad impression. Shabbiness indicates that the candidate has not bothered to dress up with care for an important event.
- Opt for understated colours. These need not look dull or drab, but they will exude class and subtlety. It’s best to avoid very bright colours like yellow, red or green as these tend to be subconsciously distracting for the interviewer. Conservative colours including black, white, grey, blue and brown are safer bets compared to say bright yellow, orange, purple, pink or vivid green. Black is a strong colour and is usually associated with leadership positions. Blue or brown are perfect for team players, while grey indicates confidence.
If you really wish to, you can consider adding a splash of colour in the form of a tie or a scarf. But please keep in mind that this should not be the dominant colour of the outfit.
- Choose dresses with small, discreet patterns like pinstripes or plain colours rather than loud patterns like polka dots. Also avoid excessively lacy, fussy dresses with frills, etc. Keep the outfit simple and elegant. The objective is for the interviewer to be able to focus on your skills and personality rather than getting distracted by your outfit.
- Trouser suits work extremely well for most interviews. They look formal and business-like, while you have to be more careful in your selection of a skirt. Skirts should preferably be long (at least knee length). Please avoid short skirts that are likely to hike up when you sit down. There are several positives about choosing to wear trouser suits including the fact that it reduces gender disparity and portrays women as equal to men. If you are going back to work after a break, make sure that the outfit feels comfortable to sit down in. White or off-white blouses are usually safe colours to wear with a trouser suit or skirt suit.
Fashion experts suggest that skirts may be a good fit for the first round of interviews, while a trouser suit may be more suitable for the final interview stage.
- Avoid wearing jeans or leggings to interviews. Similarly, strapless tops, spaghetti straps and worn T-shirts below your jacket is not a good idea. Dark colours can be softened by wearing light-coloured accessories.
- Please do not wear loose, excessively tight or ill-fitting clothing. Try on the dress that you are going to wear at home and check to see if it looks right.
- See-through garments or a revealing cleavage are to be avoided for the interview. If the gap between buttons is too much, consider wearing a vest top underneath. Tights are a good idea for skirts; opt to go with a conservative colour like beige or black. It’s also advisable to carry an extra pair in case your tights develop a run.
- In slightly trendier job settings, like the tech industry, for instance, you can consider wearing a button down shirt and a pair of slacks. Pencil skirts are classy, formal and understated.
- Open-toed sandals and flip-flops are not recommended. Opt instead to wear low heeled (or slightly heeled), closed shoes for the interview. Avoid very high heels as they look appropriate for parties and you may end up tottering on them. Ensure that the heels are not scuffed, broken or dirty. Make sure you wipe your feet on the mat thoroughly. You don’t want to walk into the interview room leaving a trail of muddy footprints!
- Wear colours that look good on you and in which you feel comfortable. If you prefer chocolate brown to black, wear that. Preferably do not try to wear something that you have never worn before. For example, if you have been comfortable in trouser suits, do not insist on wearing a skirt. You may end up fidgeting in the chair and pulling on the hem, etc. which becomes distracting and reduces self-confidence. The overall effect should be sober but need not be sombre – you are attending a job interview, not a funeral.
Navy blue, for example, can easily be worn instead of black (if black is not one of your favourite shades) and is a versatile colour. It can be worn to match with cool or warm tones and gives off a refreshing look rather than the staid old neutral colours. If you are being interviewed for a senior post, please consider wearing a well-cut outfit. You need not spend too much money on the outfit, but avoid casually picking it off a rack. Your aim is to look confident but not flashy, so avoid wearing ostentatious designer logos.
Investing in a high quality outfit may be worthwhile because for the next interview, the only expense that you will have to incur is to pay for dry cleaning. You don’t have to buy formal wear repeatedly.
Hair, Nails, Make-Up and Accessories
Wear elegant, muted accessories and don’t go overboard with bracelets that jingle. On your ears, wear simple earrings that don’t dangle too much. Also avoid strong perfumes and deodorants. Spray something light and non-fussy. Many people are allergic to powerful fragrances and it can be distracting.
Hair should be neatly combed back from the face and tied if long. Do not sport hairstyles that involve fringes or flicks that you have to keep moving away from your eyes or squint through to see the interviewer. Similarly, control excessive frizz and fly-away hair by spraying it to keep it down. Also avoid outlandish hair colouring like green or purple. Keep the hairstyle simple and no-nonsense. Please avoid spikes or punk-style hairdos as these are not appropriate for interview situations. You want to be perceived as a person who is a suitable candidate for the job post. Therefore, it’s best to avoid eccentricities and frivolousness at this point.
Keep makeup subtle and light. Use a light foundation and moisturiser so that you don’t have make-up dripping down your face during the interview. Use a light touch of mascara if you must but avoid garish, loud make-up. Lipsticks should preferably be neutral; go for nude shades like pink or brown. Bright colours like red and orange are best avoided. Be careful when you apply lipstick, do remember to use a tissue to blot excess amounts and take care that it doesn’t bleed out of the lip area. Nails should be kept clean and manicured. You may use a neutral shade to polish them. Again, avoid outlandish and bright colours. Please do not turn up to the interview with dirty nails.
If you can, it’s a good idea to get your eyebrows plucked (at home or at the salon) before the big day. The emphasis throughout is on being well-groomed and presentable rather than being fashionable or trendy. It’s not a bad idea to touch up your face before the interview but be careful about taking too long in the toilets.
Carry along a leather (real or artificial) bag that is convenient to carry your purse, mobile phone and a few cosmetic accessories. Stay conservative with the colour – white, off-white, black, beige or navy blue are all acceptable colours. Avoid carrying gym bags, duffel bags, satchels, clutches and backpacks. The bag that you choose to carry need not be expensive but it shouldn’t look shabby. Make sure you wipe your bag to remove any stains or spots. If you have to carry documents, pens, mobile phone, pad, etc., you may wish to use a bag organiser within the bag so that you can easily get to what you need.
As a stay-at-home mum returning to work after a gap, you may want to first take an inventory of what’s in your wardrobe. You are likely to have accumulated comfortable, casual clothes that are convenient to wear. Your body may have undergone changes in the meantime and you should always try on what you plan to wear before D-day. Start your selection of clothes beforehand so that you have time to make alterations or buy anything that you need. Keep your attire clean and spotless, although this could prove challenging when we live with babies or young children. You don’t want to enter the interview room with food splatters down the front of your suit. The interview attire should be clean, well-tailored and pressed.
The objective of dressing for an interview is not to make a fashion statement. There has been a shift in thinking with regard to interview dressing. The scenario has changed from the late nineties where casual (or even scruffy) dressing was accepted. The main reason for this was that the applicants were in demand and jobs were many. Nowadays, the emphasis has returned to a more conservative, sober look for interviews. While it’s not the deciding factor, poor dressing has the potential to make a negative impression. The way you dress shows a lot about you as a person and as a candidate for the job. It’s not necessary to spend a fortune shopping for an outfit; you can choose from a range of affordable clothing or even select appropriate outfits from your wardrobe. The right clothing may not be a substitute for a killer CV and impeccable communication skills, but it will definitely set you apart from others.
Proper attire helps improve your chances of being selected for the post. Sloppy dressing is instantly visible and will convey the impression of nonchalance and the interviewer will be less inclined to view you as a suitable candidate. If you are in doubt, you can also try calling the recruiter or the HR department to ask for advice on what to wear. You may lose a job opportunity due to inappropriate clothing and never know why you were not selected!
Remember to dress for success!
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