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No Really, How Do I Dress For My Job Interview?

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by Michael Quinn, Certified Career Coach, Barton Career Advisors

Running a Google search on “how do I dress for a job interview” generated over 106 million responses in under 0.5 seconds. I will add my experience and opinions to the million plus others that you can research. Like it or not, the reality is that you will be judged on how you are dressed, so make sure what you wear makes a positive impression. Attire for job interviews has not changed – you should dress to impress. When in doubt, it is better to be overdressed than it is to be underdressed. Have you ever gone to a social event, and you were obviously underdressed for the occasion compared to everyone else there? How did it make you feel? The same is true for an interview. Your nerves are already heightened, so make your attire a non-issue.

A few tips to prepare for what you will wear (please note that these tips apply to both men and women, as the guidelines are generally the same):

  1. Do your research – Can you drive by the place where you will interview? How are people dressed? What do you notice? If you cannot visit the place beforehand, look online using the company’s website, LinkedIn profiles of people who work there, ask your network of friends and colleagues if they know what the attire looks like.
  2. Prepare the night before – Set out your clothes the night before. Make sure everything fits well, is properly pressed or ironed, and it matches. Personally, I am partially color-blind and I make sure to ask my spouse if what I plan to wear matches.
  3. Overdress – When in doubt, it is better to be dressed too formal than to be dressed too casual. I had a series of interviews in the Raleigh-Durham area with a healthcare information technology company. I went to the office the day before my interview, and sat in the parking lot around 5:00pm and took note of what people were wearing. For my interview I chose to wear a suit and tie. Upon my arrival, the executive with whom I first met told me I could “lose the jacket and leave it here in my office.”

Your first impression to a potential employer only happens once. Your attire can show that you are ready to impress and understand what it takes to be successful. Or that you just sort of threw something together – employers will assume that is also how you will approach your work. Regardless of your opinion, the way you dress will affect your potential employer’s initial impression of you and your work habits.

A couple of other things to consider include:

  • Do NOT have your cell phone out during an interview. If you must bring it with you, make sure it is on the completely silent/do not disturb mode. The same is true for laptops, tablets, etc. If you will need them for the interview, then bring them; otherwise, leave them at home.
  • Bring a professional briefcase or portfolio. Have any necessary papers and documents neatly organized.
  • Breath mints – yes! Gum – no!
  • A cup of coffee or a soda – no!

Business attire has become more casual over the past decade, and once you have secured a position with an employer, your attire can more closely match the work environment. One final thought – we all want to be recognized as individuals, and I completely agree with this school of thought. When I go to an interview, I always plan to dress to impress. Good luck as you search for your next adventure!

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