Dress for Success

Many of you may have the whole dress for success thing down pat. But in case you haven’t interviewed in awhile or are new to the ranks of mid-career and executive professionals, here are some basics you must know.

[Note: I know of an executive at the $200K salary level who recently wore wild tennis shoes to an interview, so clearly getting back to basics is an important thing to do! By the way, he didn’t get the job.]

Fashion Tips for Women and Men

  • Not sure how to dress for a particular interview? Go to the workplace in question at one of the following times of day: start of business, lunch, or close of business. Observe what everyone is wearing. Identify the person who is the most well-dressed, and dress one notch above that for your interview.
  • Even if you know that the company dress is casual, dress up for interviews anyway. It shows professionalism and respect, and more importantly, that you know how to dress for job interviews.
  • Dress conservatively for interviews and avoid bright, flashy colors and patterns. Solid navy blue or medium to dark gray is usually best.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t need distracting “adjustments” when you sit or stand.
  • Clean and press all of your interview clothing and polish your shoes (or have it professionally done).
  • Keep jewelry to a minimum. Avoid jewelry that distractively jingles or swings when you move. If you ordinarily wear facial jewelry (e.g., in your nose, tongue or eyebrows), remove all of it before interviews.
  • Practice good hygiene: Clean and trim your fingernails (or get a manicure), shower, brush your teeth, gargle with mouthwash, comb your hair, and do all that other hygiene stuff your parents taught you.
  • Avoid wearing strong perfume or cologne. Fragrance is a matter of personal preference and your interviewer might dislike your choice. It’s best to have no scent on at all.
  • Empty your pockets of bulging and jingling items, such as a cigarette pack and coins.
  • Carry your paperwork (resume copies, reference list, letters of recommendation, job-application information, etc.), a pen and notepad in a nice briefcase or portfolio, preferably one that is color coordinated with your conservative-colored clothing (such as a black or dark gray briefcase). This makes you look organized and professional.

Job Interview Dress Tips for Women

  • Wearing a dress is probably not a good idea. You might get by if you wear a color-coordinated blazer, pastel blouse, and long skirt or slacks. But you can’t go wrong wearing a solid navy-blue or medium-to-dark-gray business suit, with a solid-white, long-sleeve, no-frills dress blouse.
  • If you wear hosiery (recommended), wear skin color. Naturally, no runs.
  • Wear low-heeled, conservative dress shoes that are color coordinated with your outfit.
  • Don’t go without a belt if you’re wearing a skirt or pants with belt loops. Wear a dress belt that matches your shoes (e.g., black with black).
  • Style your hair tastefully or have it professionally done. If it’s long, wear it up or back, so you’re not constantly flipping it out of the way.
  • Avoid fingernail designs and bright- or odd-colored polish. Clear or no nail polish is best.
  • Apply makeup sparingly and avoid unusual or bright colors. Definitely don’t apply sparkles to your hair or face.
  • If you wear earrings, wear small, conservative ones. Wear only one per ear in the traditional earlobe position.
  • It’s better to carry a briefcase or portfolio into an interview than a purse.

Job Interview Dress Tips for Men

  • A sport coat and color-coordinated dress slacks with a pastel dress shirt might do. But a solid navy-blue or medium-to-dark gray business suit is best, as is a solid-white, long-sleeve dress shirt with a conservative silk tie. Silk makes a smaller, much nicer knot than most other fabrics. If you can’t afford 100-percent silk, try a silk blend.
  • A tie clip or pin will keep your tie from flopping around when you open your sport coat or suit jacket.
  • Wear calf-length dress socks (not crew or tube socks) that match the color of your suit.
  • Wear low-heeled, conservative dress shoes that are color coordinated with your suit. (For example, don’t wear brown shoes with a navy-blue or gray suit. Wear black.) Some say that laced shoes are dressier than loafers, but that’s a minor detail. The important thing is to wear conservative, color-coordinated dress shoes, not sneakers, cowboy boots, etc.
  • Don’t go without a belt if you’re wearing pants with belt loops. Wear a dress belt that matches your shoes (e.g., black with black).
  • Get a professional haircut or trim. If you can’t stand the thought of cutting your long hair for interviews, at least tie it back in a ponytail. But short, well-groomed hair is best.
  • Clean-shaven is the best way to go too. If you have a beard or moustache, shave it off for interviews. If you just can’t, at least make sure it’s well-groomed.
  • If you ordinarily wear one or more earrings, remove them before interviews.

Helpful resources for women:

Helpful resources for men:

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About Cheryl Lynch Simpson

Cheryl is a Career, Job Search & LinkedIn Coach and Master Resume Writer. She has helped clients in >35 industries on 6 continents and has earned 24 global resume writing nominations and awards.

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