In a perfect world, you should be judged based solely on the quality of work you do.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.

Like it or not, an interviewer begins “sizing you up” the moment he shakes your hand.  And like it or not, little things – the strength of your handshake, how much eye contact you make, what you’re wearing – really do make a difference.

As a job seeker, or someone seeking upward mobility, you should leverage every opportunity to tip the scales in your favor and make a positive impression on those who can open doors to opportunity.  So dress to impress!  Whether you’re headed to an interview, or looking to get ahead in your career, here are the most important things you need to know about attire:

  1. Don’t know what the dress code is?  Ask! Before your interview, contact the human resources department and inquire about the dress code.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
  2. Dress one notch above what is expected for the position. If the dress code is office casual, wear a suit to your interview.  Even if the position is non-professional, dress neatly and conservatively.  Although a welder is certainly not required to wear a suit and tie on the job, anyone who expects to be hired as one should show up in a clean, pressed pair of pants with a button-down shirt.
  3. Err on the conservative side. Any time you’re faced with a wardrobe choice, go with the safer option.  Select the longer skirt; fasten that extra button; wear the brown shoes instead of the orange ones.  With the exception of very artistic or fashion-oriented jobs (e.g., columnist for a style magazine), in the world of work, the more conservative option is the smarter choice.
  4. Keep in mind that appearance can create credibility – or undermine it. How much would you trust what your doctor told you, if he walked into the examination room with dirty fingernails and clown pants?  Admittedly, this example is extreme, but it serves to illustrate a point:  people will decide how much they believe what you say based on your appearance.  Bottom line, make sure that what you’re wearing supports what you say about yourself.

This being said, here are some basic tips for looking polished, serious and ready to succeed as you head into your next interview:

Attire for Women

  • Solid-colored (blue, brown, charcoal or black) suit – either skirt or pants is acceptable, but make sure the skirt is long enough to comfortably sit down
  • Coordinated blouse (make sure it is buttoned enough to cover you in the front) or sweater
  • Solid-colored shoes with a conservative heel (no platforms) or polished flats
  • Simple jewelry (skip bangle bracelets, which make a lot of noise; remove facial piercings; wear simple post earrings)
  • Light, neutral-toned make-up
  • Neatly manicured nails with clear polish (or skip the polish altogether)
  • Neat, professional hairstyle
  • For non-professional positions, a skirt or khakis may be substituted for the suit.  Be sure to check with the employer first, to make sure what interview attire is appropriate.

Attire for Men

  • Solid-colored (navy blue, charcoal, brown, black) suit
  • Long-sleeved dress shirt (white or coordinating color)
  • Leather belt
  • Conservative color/pattern tie
  • Dark dress socks (make sure they’re long enough so that your calf doesn’t show when you sit down)
  • Conservative dress shoes
  • Little or no jewelry (absolutely no earrings or other facial piercings)
  • Neat, professional hairstyle (make sure facial hair is neatly trimmed; shave as close to the time of interview as is practical)
  • Neat, closely trimmed nails
  • For non-professional positions, khakis and a button-down shirt may be substituted for the suit.  Be sure to check with the employer first, to make sure what interview attire is appropriate.

General Attire Tips and Guidlines

  1. If you haven’t worn your interview attire for awhile, check to make sure everything is clean and fits well.
  2. Get your clothes ready the night before, to head-off potential problems the day of the interview.
  3. Do not wear heavy perfume, cologne, scented lotions, etc. to an interview.  If the interviewer doesn’t like the particular fragrance you’re wearing, you will have unwittingly created a negative impression.
  4. Cover tattoos and remove facial piercings.  For women, simple post earrings are acceptable.
  5. Use a portfolio or briefcase to carry your résumé, keys, etc., but don’t carry anything else.  This adds to your professional appearance, while allowing you to keep one hand free to shake.
  6. Make sure your pockets are empty (i.e., no loose change, wadded tissues or bulging wallets).
  7. Use a breath mint or breath-freshening spray before you enter the building.

Remember, the first impression you make on an interviewer is bound to be a lasting one.  Follow these guidelines and you’re sure to make a great one!