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Ask A Career Coach - What To Wear When Interviewing


Recognizing that first impressions are crucial when you are conducting a job search is fundamental. I recently read a great article in Business Insider “How Your Clothing Impacts Your Success.” In my volunteer work, I have had the pleasure of co facilitating an interview workshop with Michael Parker, President of Dressed to Deal. Michael coaches executives and sales representatives on the importance of appearance.  Michael’s number one piece of advice to job seekers is to conduct an “appearance assessment” prior to a networking event or interview.  Listed below are a few tips that Michael and I share with job seekers: 

With business casual being the most common business attire these days our clients will often ask us what to wear when interviewing.Here is some of the best advice we can pass along.

Dress for the position you are interviewing for by learning as much as you can about the company culture. Showing up for an interview in a $2,000 suit when the company is business casual can be the kiss of death. Ask the recruiter or company contact who is scheduling the interview what is appropriate dress? What will the interviewers be wearing?  This shows you are serious about the company and are doing your homework.

Both men and women should avoid excessive jewelry, accessories, and refrain from wearing fragrances, cologne or scented lotions. You want the interviewer to focus on your skills and not be distracted by jewelry or scent. 

Make sure that your hairstyle is current and nails are manicured and free of excessive polish.

You don’t have to purchase a new outfit; make sure that your clothing is stylish, tailored, well-fitted, cleaned and pressed. Shoes need to be polished and in style. Hiring Managers will interpret a sloppy, disheveled appearance and lack of attention to detail as indicators of your future performance on the job.

Men and women candidates should carry a portfolio with a notepad/pen to take notes and space for extra copies of a resume or work projects. Do not use an IPad to take notes; this can be distracting to the interviewer and give the impression that you are not engaged in the conversation.

Women can also carry a small tote or handbag. Avoid carrying an out of style hard sided briefcase, large tote or handbag that is difficult to maneuver and distracting to the interviewer. Leave the expensive designer bag and designer suit at home. A client of one of my colleagues received feedback on her high end handbag that it made her look too expensive despite the fact that she was interviewing for an executive role.

Cell phones should be left in your car, pocket, or handbag, turned off and never visible during an interview. There is no quicker way to demonstrate you are not fully engaged than to glance or reach for your phone during the interview. 

Don’t sabotage your interview by neglecting your appearance.  To quote Darlene Price from the Business Insider article "To achieve career advancement, avoid an unprofessional image that may enslave your career to others' misperceptions," Price says. "Instead, choose clothing that accurately reflects your credibility and ensures you 'sell for what you're worth.' Make sure your 'exterior' earns you a 'silent recommendation,'" she concludes. 

Paula Pope is a Senior Consultant with The Frontier Group

The Frontier Group provides customized corporate outplacement, career coaching, executive coaching, talent development, and assessment solutions. The Frontier Group proudly offers customized services that cultivate strategy, results and partnerships.