HOW TO DRESS FOR AN INTERVIEW
As a Boston College Law School graduate, I’ve written this advice particularly for undergraduate and graduate students. It’s also valid for professionals, such as attorneys, bankers, and doctors. One thing we’re often asked by college students, graduate students, and people returning to the workforce is, “What is the proper attire for a job interview?” This advice will also help when you present a speech. The first rule is no hats or hoods, except for religious reasons. This rule applies to men and women. The following additional rules are broken down by gender.
Female Attire for Job Interviews
The two rules for dressing for an interview are:
- De-emphasize sexuality
- Emphasize trustworthiness, morality, and conformity
Your wardrobe conveys subliminal messages about your moral character. To emphasize the right message — the message employers want to hear — do the following:
- Wear a jacket.
- Don’t wear pants.
- If you must wear pants, wear a jacket too.
- No blue jeans.
- Don’t show your bare arms.
- If you wear pants, they must not show your legs: No Capri pants.
- The best outfit is a skirt suit.
- Do not wear sneakers or boots. Pumps are the most effective shoe. They should be closed toe, closed heel, with heels no more than two and a half inches. They should be at least two tones darker than your outfit. Black is always an appropriate color for pumps, even with white outfits.
Your hair should be shoulder length or shorter. If you have long hair, put it up in an updo or ponytail. Avoid flyaways. Control loose strands with pins, clips, or hair products or sprays.
THE POWER LOOK
The skirt suit is also known as the power look. Aim for the power look. It is traditional, conservative, and boring. But it is also the look that will please employers. They are more likely to hire you if you match this look (See Fig. 1).
As a modern woman you may not wish to be boring and traditional. But remember this is the look that succeeds in business. The image of Hillary Clinton (Fig. 2) also illustrates the power suit. But her color choice is unfortunate. Fashion designer Donatella Versace agreed, suggesting that her skirt suits should be black or navy blue. (The one pictured here is cobalt blue, and our research indicates it is too bright to be effective in a job interview. Navy would be significantly more effective.)
The three most effective colors for a business or professional interview suit are blue, gray, and beige. Gray is particularly effective for bankers and accountants.
Women who wear pastel colors can be effective with women but will be challenged by men. If you’re going to be interviewed by a man, do not wear a pastel jacket or suit. If you’re not sure of the gender of your interviewer, avoid pastels.
The proper length for a skirt worn to a job interview is at or below the knee. Research reveals that shorter skirts are too provocative. The suggested skirt length will add to your credibility and help you develop better businesslike rapport with the interviewer. It is always important to understand the mindset of an interviewer, and it is crucial to realize that they are interested in a person of good character. Despite what you may think, your wardrobe conveys subtle hints about your character and it makes an impression on people before you even say a word.
Research indicates that you make an impression on people within two seconds of entering a room, that is, even before you say hello and shake hands.
Two colors — blue and beige — have been found to convey the highest credibility factor to women in job interviews and sales. The typical outfit containing these colors would be a navy jacket and a beige skirt. A gray skirt could be substituted for the beige for a higher authority look. Both outfits are traditional, and as John T. Molloy points out, they will be well received by most people in our culture for one simple reason. They are familiar.
The importance of wearing familiar styles and colors cannot be overemphasized. You can understand why this is more effective if you think of the psychological effect of clothes. We tend to trust people who are similar. This is a natural instinct, and one which you can use to your advantage when dressing for an interview. Wear traditional colors and styles instead of something bizarre or strange.
One final note, try to wear a navy blue or dark gray suit for your first interview. Notice that in Figure 3 Sarah Palin is wearing a black skirt with a white jacket, a power suit (which is good) but a high contrast look (which is not especially good for her). If your hair and skin are not high contrast (that is, if you have light skin tone and light hair, like Palin) then a more monochromatic look is better.
The high contrast outfit Palin is wearing would be more effective on a woman with fair skin and dark hair. If you are African American and have dark skin and dark hair, we have found that the most effective outfit is a monochromatic look in a darker color, such as gray, blue, or dark beige.
A light beige is not as effective for a job interview as a blue or a medium gray (see Fig. 4). In addition, a light beige is not as effective for a woman with dark hair and fair skin (Fig. 4). This is because matching your contrast level to your outfit generally enhances your image.
Notice that in Figure 4 the woman is wearing a jacket with a blouse. The white blouse is appropriate for this outfit. Some jackets, it should be noted, do not need a blouse; they button up higher on the chest. As long as the neckline does not plunge too much, a jacket without a blouse can be appropriate for a job interview, too.
The following suggestions will help you in your interview:
- Avoid perfume. It is not businesslike for an interview.
- Make sure your hair is neat.
- Check your appearance in a mirror before the interview.
- Sit down upon entering, even if not invited to do so.
- Look at the interviewer.
- Smile and speak clearly.
- Reply with full sentences not monosyllables.
- Thank the interviewer for their time at the end.
- Close the office door behind you when you leave.
Male Attire for Job Interviews
Men are more effective in job interviews if they wear a jacket and tie. Their hair should be combed and neat. Their shoes should be shined. They should make eye contact and answer questions with full sentences, not monosyllables. In other words, don’t just say, “Yes” or “No” when asked a question. If asked, “Do you like to swim?” for example, don’t just say, “Yes.” Instead, add a few more words to your reply, something like, “Yes, I like to swim, and I have been swimming since I was about six years old.”
Men will be more effective if they follows these simple rules:
- Wear a jacket and tie.
- Comb your hair.
- Shine your shoes.
- Wear black shoes.
- Your shoes should be cap-toe or wingtip only.
- No blue jeans.
- Shake hands firmly.
- Do not slouch in your seat.
- Make eye contact with the interviewer.
- Prepare in advance by anticipating questions you will be asked.
- Express interest in the company.
- Explain how you can help the company.
- Thank the interviewer for their time after the interview.
- Close the door when you leave.
The purpose of an interview is not to showcase your talents or to impress the interviewer with your capability. Instead, it is to fill a need that the company has. To do this, prepare by researching the company and its employees. The more you know, the better you will be able to reply to questions put to you during the interview.
Your shirt should not be too dark. For example, the shirt pictured in Figure 5 is too dark for an interview. In addition, the man is not wearing a tie, which is an error for an interview. The best shirts are white, ivory, beige, tan, and powder blue. Do not wear a pink, red, or green shirt. They will mark you as ineffective.
Keep your jacket on during the interview. Removing your jacket is a mistake because it undermines your authority and credibility. Men who wear a jacket and tie to an interview do significantly better than men who fail to adhere to this expected outfit.
Stress how you can help the company with its goals. If it is a school, explain how you can be a productive member of the faculty. If it is a financial institution, stress how you can help it develop and grow. Remember, the reason you are there is for the interviewer to see if you can help them complete their company mission, whatever it is.
Do not offer too much extraneous information about yourself. When asked a question, reply with a few sentences and wait for the next question. Babbling on and on is counterproductive and can send the message that you lack focus or have a poor ability to deal with interpersonal relationships.
The choice of tie is important. Men often wear inappropriate neckties. Appropriate business and professional colors for a man’s tie are blue, yellow, or gray. Do not wear a red tie. Do not wear ties with gaudy designs, such as huge polka dots or big flowers. You want a muted, conservative look (Fig. 6).
One of the most effective ties is the rep tie, so named because there is a repeating diagonal stripe (see Fig. 6). The rep tie works well with a solid jacket.
Another tie that is always in good taste, is the solid color. Most men fail to consider a solid, but these ties are very effective. They can be blue, maroon, gray, or brown. They work well with solid jackets as well as with pinstripes.
Keep in mind that the tie should be 100 percent silk. It is not necessary to pay a high price to get a good tie. You can buy perfectly good ties, similar in quality to high-priced ties, at The Tie Bar for fifteen dollars. That’s right. They have been in business for many years, and have created ties for celebrities as well as professionals. They were founded by two attorneys who were tired of paying big bucks for a tie that could be made for a fraction of the cost. Their selection is excellent and the price can’t be beat.
Good luck in your job interview!