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Dressing For Interview Success: Casualness Breeds Casualties

Visit www.jmwanes.com for more information. Copyrighted by J.M. Wanes & Associates. Reprinted with permission.

You’ve probably heard all the sayings: “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”, “the first impression is the lasting impression”, “if you dress like a person of substance and integrity, you will, more often than not, be treated as such”, or maybe you have seen the TV commercial with the male tennis star claiming, “image is everything”.

Even though John T. Molloy begins his classic “Dress For Success” by proclaiming, “the first rule of dress is common sense”, not everybody has common sense about what to wear. In fact, many job seekers unknowingly dress for failure. They do so because they make one or more of four suicidal mistakes:

1. They let their significant other choose their clothing.

2. They let their favorite sales clerk choose their
clothing.

3. They let designers and fashion consultants choose
their clothing, or

4. They let their background choose their clothing.

For some people, avoiding these mistakes, and possessing an ability to dress for an interview comes naturally. For others – those who are not totally convinced that appearance counts – it takes a concerted effort.

What I have attempted to do is pack a tremendous amount of information into a small amount of space by listing a few simple rules designed to add authority to the way you look when the time comes for that big interview.

Wear dark colors – When the Wall Street Journal surveyed 351 chief executive officers for their preferred suit color, no one was surprised that 53% of the respondents favored blue, dark blue, or navy blue, and 39% opted for gray, charcoal or dark gray. For both men and women, dark suits spell formality, conservatism, and authority. Dark ties, too, contribute to the image. (Throw out all those yellow and red ties that were considered such a strong power look in the middle 1980’s). Men, keep in mind that the tie is probably the single most important denominator of respectability and responsibility for a man in the United States, so do not short change yourself here and make sure the geometric patterns on any of your ties are minuscule. Also, stay away from bow ties.

Do not extend this dark-is-beautiful look to shirts. The general rule is that the darker the color of suit and tie, the lighter the color of the shirt. (White was the pre-ferred color of 53% of the CEOs surveyed by the Wall Street Journal, and blue came in second with 35%.)

Don’t wear short sleeves – If you intend to take anything I have said in this article at all seriously, note the following: You will never, ever, as long as you live, wear a short-sleeve shirt for any job interview, or for any business purpose! Wearing a short-sleeve shirt will destroy your executive image.

Avoid “fashion-forward” dress – This goes for both men and women. Generally speaking, employers are more willing to trust conservative dressers. Maybe, that’s why “Brooks Brothers” has flourished since 1818. Casual day notwithstanding, the loudly proclaimed relaxed changes in acceptability are more fashion fantasy than business fact.

The truth is that business styles change very little, and there is no point in risking a job offer by gambling on passing (and very expensive) fads. The only bank accounts that are fattened by a new fad are those of the designer and manufacturer who created it.

Ladies, avoid heavy doses of pastels – Women can add authority by wearing less pink, baby blue and other pastels that are equated with nurseries. There is also little or no authority to be found in dangle earrings, sexy shoes, and ankle bracelets. Also, do not wear stockings with overly fussy patterns. Lace is definitely out, as are seams. As a fall back, bring an extra pair of panty hose in your handbag just in case you get a run.

Get your hands on an annual report – If the company is publicly traded, call the Investor Relations Department and obtain an annual report. Look at the pictures inside, this is how senior management wants the shareholders to perceive they dress everyday. Copy the styles in the pictures and you can’t go wrong. Note: Is there anything you do not see in the pictures of women executives: Notice that you never see any of the ladies wearing anything provocative, jewelry is sparse, and no one has a pants outfit on.

Wear good quality shoes-and keep them shined This sounds like stupid advice, but such things get noticed, whether we like it or not. Women: For authority’s sake, favor dark versions of the plain pump (closed toe and heels). Men: If you already wear good quality, well maintained shoes and want to add still more authority, exchange slip-ons for lace-ups. When it comes to shoes, handbags and belts, don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Carrying or wearing quality accessories are a great way to upgrade anyone’s interviewing wardrobe.

Major taboos – Cheap digital watches (unless the company your interviewing with manufacturers, imports or distributes them). When it comes to briefcases, the narrower the better, three-inch imported leather versions are probably the most impressive and they never go out of style. Avoid clothes made of polyester and other synthetic fibers. They are inferior to natural fibers in a multitude of ways and they don’t “breathe”. There are a few exceptions in this category, so if you wear blends, make sure they are of excellent quality.

Other taboos … alligator shoes, short socks, white socks, ties that end above or well below your belt, skirts that are more than 3 inches above the knee or excessively tight, anything suggestively sheer, excessive perfume or colognes, tacky jewelry, and wrinkled unpressed outfits or suits.

I will never ask anyone reading this article to concede that it is fair or just or moral for a person’s success or failure in a job interview to depend to a large extent, on how one dresses.

However, there is one overriding concept that every job seeker must constantly keep in mind: The way a person dresses is the single biggest nonverbal communication you make about yourself.

Now put on your Sunday best, grab those car keys, head out the door, and really ace that next interview. Just remember, in order to succeed at that big interview, you want to be known for your talents and energy, not for your red socks.

September 23, 2002
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