What Not to Wear to Your Next Job Interview
It's best to dress conservatively
You’ve heard the phrase “dress for success,” right? It’s true: how you’re dressed can go a long, long way to making that vital first impression a positive one. The opposite is also true: It’s way too easy to dress for failure. No matter how qualified you are, you need to look the part. Even if you know that employees in the organization where you’re applying dress very casually, you shouldn’t copy them for an interview. Dress conservatively; you can relax your style once you land the job. (Of course, there are exceptions, such as interviews for jobs in Hollywood or advertising.) What are the most common fashion mistakes job hunters make? Here are 10 definite no-no’s.
• Lose Leather: Leather skirts are not a good choice. Neither are leather jackets, including blazers, for men or women.
• Skip Substandard Shoes: Stash the sneakers, boots, fancy flip-flops, sandals, open-toed or backless numbers, stiletto heels or toes, and so on.
• Junk Jangly or Jarring Jewelry: Think small, discreet, and businesslike. Don’t wear any ornaments that move, make noise, or would jar the older generation. Remove studs and piercings; disguise obvious holes with flesh-colored plugs, especially if you’re applying in the medical field.
• Tame Tattoos: Yes, they’re all the rage. Maybe the interviewer even likes them. But maybe she or he worries that customers, especially more conservative customers, won’t. To be safe, cover them up with long sleeves or scarves during interviews.
• Take Off Turtlenecks: Career-minded men will choose to wear a tie or at least a shirt with a collar. Wise women will avoid both turtlenecks and low-cut blouses.
• Streamline Suits: Nothing dates a suit faster than lapels that are too wide or too narrow. A tailor or alterer (ask at your drycleaners) can take in or let out lapels to fit current fashion; it’s worth it. They can also raise and perhaps even lower hemlines of most skirts. You don’t need to alter your entire wardrobe, just your interview outfit. Note: A skirt, whether part of a suit or not, shouldn’t be higher than two inches above the knees, no matter what current fashions call for outside the interview room. Remember, skirts ride up when you sit down.
• Cover Calves Carefully: Even in hot weather, even with a gorgeous tan, women are better off avoiding bare legs and wearing neutral-colored nylons instead. No patterns, shimmer, colors, tights, or leg warmers.
• Hang Up Hip or Hefty Handbags: Purses shouldn’t shout for attention. Have at least one that is small, in a solid, neutral color, and keep it well organized.
• Nix Nifty or Nasty Nails: No patterns, glitter, wild colors, superlong, badly cut, or dirty fingernails, please.
• Curb Colors: Shades of gray and blue are safest for suits, blazers, and skirts. Blouses, scarves, and ties can be of various compatible colors in soft shades or small, overall patterns—ones that whisper instead of shout. Tropical patterns and shockingly bright colors are for free spirits, not business people.
What about pants for women? In my opinion, a sharp pants suit or a great pair of tailored slacks with a blazer can look just as businesslike as a suit with a skirt. But I don’t recommend jeans, no matter how new or fancy, or Capri pants, palazzo pants, and so on.
Remember that once you land that job, you can probably dress less conservatively. You may find that tattoos or piercings, within reason, are okay at your new workplace. Perhaps non-floppy sandals and clean tennis shoes will be fine, too. But wait and see; don’t take chances in the interview. You’re selling skills and talents, not revealing the inner you. As a career consultant once told me, “Business dress is packaging, not self-expression.”
Ann Reeves teaches self-marketing skills and other subjects at Santa Barbara Business College’s Ventura campus.