Want to know when an interviewer decides whether or not you are a bona fide candidate for the job? When they read your resume? When they are dazzled by your intelligence? Nope. It’s when you walk through the door.
A lasting first impression
Therefore, heed this advice: Learn the different business cultures in our book’s Business Wear section. A business culture is like a religion. It can be either Orthodox or Reform. Ignorance of a business’ culture can get you excommunicated before you walk in. Is it a strict “button down” corporate culture or is it a “chic” trendy place? And don’t underestimate the “express yourself” trendy companies. They may look casual but they’re just as strict about dress as the IBM types.
Remember that we’re only talking about what you wear for the job interview. You have a lot more flexibility with your wardrobe after you get the job. Think of it this way. There’s a lot of difference between what you wear on your first date with someone and your twenty-first.
Now let’s do a quick check from head to toe.
Keep it clean, medium length and a color found in nature. If God wanted you to have purple hair, he would have made you an eggplant. Also hair that is teased “high and wide” has negative class connotations.
A Buzz Cut is open to too much interpretation. Unless, of course, it’s a “Trendy” work atmosphere. In that case, it’s a plus. Come to think of it, purple hair might also be a plus in this situation.
The bottom line for the more traditional office is to keep your hair tasteful and conservative. Besides, the hair spray needed to maintain a highly teased style is murder on the ozone.
Make-up should never be a mask. Use just enough foundation to even the skin tone. Lipstick, blush or eyeshadow should be of the palest shades. Tricks, like deep shading and highlighting, only call attention to themselves. Remember, they’re hiring you, not your cheekbones.
Don’t use make-up to try to appear much younger than you are. The first thing the interviewer will do is look at the date of birth on your application.
If Cinderella were going job hunting, her fairy godmother would have zapped up the perfect blazer. A solid color blazer with a good cut helps you make an entrance that says, “I’m together. I’m competent. If you’re lucky, I’m yours.” Herringbones and other sedate patterns are fine after you get the job but for the interview think “solids”. They leave a better impression.
Blouses are a blazer’s best friend. The best colors for blouses at an interview are white, off-white or the palest of pastels. The best fabric is cotton or silk. The best neckline for an interview is an open neck blouse (not too open) with a simple collar. It looks professional and comfortable which is what you are. No turtlenecks, unless you’re applying to work at a coffeehouse. No plunging necklines unless you’re selling something other than your skills. Try to also stay away from very high necklines and lace collars. You’ll come off like a “school marm” who’s rigid and no fun to work with.
To be on the safe side, keep skirts to no more than two inches above the knee. Long skirts are OK sometimes. Just make sure you don’t come off like a monk. Pants are great under blazers. Just keep them in solid colors, tailored, hemmed properly and with a good, crisp crease. Tight or short skirts are verboten for the same reason as plunging necklines (see above).
A tailored dress with the right scarf can work wonders. Like skirts, dresses should rarely be too long and never too short or tight. Keep the colors muted and the patterns small.
Outside of the fashion world, the ability to accessorize is not considered a job skill. Jewelry should be barely noticeable. Keep the “big rocks” at home. Limit earrings to one per earlobe (video store applicants excluded). Make your hose flesh-tone (whatever color that means to you), snag free and sheer. And carry a tasteful bag, not too big or too little. Try to make it look expensive in material and design. Like your hair, keep your shoes slightly conservative. Unless you’re auditioning for a national tour of Les Miserables, there’s no need to call attention to your feet. Shoes with heels too high, in bright colors or that are in bad repair say more about your management skills than you think.
Unless you live in the tropics, your best bet is to buy your interview outfit in year-round fabrics. Hopefully, you won’t be looking for a job all year but if you’re going to spend a lot of money for something, it’s best if you can get your money’s worth. A good, fine wool gabardine works most of the year except on the hottest of days. Silk can also work year round but works better with blouses and lined jackets. Skirts and pants in heavy silk are good in all seasons but tend to be dressier than you might want to appear at an interview. Cotton is a little casual for the corporate workplace, and linen wrinkles horribly.
Entire industries have been built around color and its effects on how people perceive things. We’ve applied the following axioms on hundreds of commercial sets. Dark colors confer an image of power. Pale colors make you “people-friendly” and reds are overpowering.
No loose threads
A good physical impression depends on more than just posture. Make sure everything you wear fits correctly. And don’t even think about going for an interview with hanging seams or missing buttons. Elmer’s glue applied sparingly is a quick temporary fix. If you don’t know how to use the business end of a good bar of soap, box of detergent or curling iron, learn fast.
Bonus step – Mental attitude
Even if your dress is perfect, your hair is perfect and your shoes gleam, chances are you will remain unemployed if you go to an interview with the wrong attitude. Just be poised and confident. Even when a very young Charlie Chaplin was rummaging through garbage cans for food, he believed himself to be the greatest actor in the world. Charlie Chaplin had an attitude that became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yours can, too.