Dress for Success: The Interview

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Congrats! You’ve landed an interview. You’ve made it past the dreaded gatekeepers in HR and you’ve been invited in for a face-to-face with the head honcho. The job is surely yours, right? Not necessarily. In addition to a polished resume and organized portfolio, there is one more factor you need to worry about before walking into your meeting: what to wear.

Why is My Outfit Important?

While it seems a trivial formality in comparison to your work experience and education, many employers admit that their perception of you as a potential hire is based on your outward appearance. While it’s good to demonstrate your creativity and open-minded personality, walking into an interview with ripped jeans and a leather vest may cost you a major job opportunity.

Reid Nicholson, an advisor in Full Sail’s Career Development Department, gave some perspective when asked why appearance is so important during the interview. “You have to keep in mind that the first thing an employer is looking for is an employee – Someone who is going to work for them, support them, and work to further advance the company.”

While it’s great to express yourself, your primary objective should be to demonstrate that you are able fit the needs and goals of the company. “This goes for everything,” Reid added, “your resume, cover letter, how you interact, and especially how you dress. Everything that you do to get employed sends signals to your [future] employer.”

What Should I Wear?

Depending on the industry and the company you’re applying for, you may be able to get away with business casual attire. For men, this entails nice dress slacks or khakis and a button-down shirt. Some argue that a nice polo would also fall under this category, so long as it’s in good shape and doesn’t have any unusual patterns. For women, pants, skirts, and dresses are all appropriate. If you’re unsure what to wear, you could contact the company’s HR Department or visit their employment section on the website to see recommendations for attire. When in doubt, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed; a nice suit never hurt anyone.

Cami Smith, Industry Outreach Representative for Career Development, suggests doing some background research on the company to get an idea for what they’re going to expect. “Research their website and LinkedIn,” she offers. “You might get an idea of what the culture is like and you can make a decision based on that.

Okay, What’s Off Limits?

While there isn’t a hard and fast rule about interview attire, most employers suggest against baggy clothing, excessive facial piercings, wild hairstyles or colors, and any revealing clothing. While many workplaces encourage individuality and creative expression, toning it down slightly during an interview shows that you know how to put forth a professional persona when necessary and that you’re willing to meet the needs of the company while still finding a way to express yourself. Whatever you do, make sure your clothing is clean and ironed. A mustard stain from your lunch or a wrinkly shirt shows lack of attention to detail and overall sloppiness, which an employer automatically associates with your work ethic.

In a Forbes article, Kim Zoller, founder and president of Image Dynamics, cites that the most common mistake made by interviewees is missing the details: “If you’re not dressed well, you can say all the right things… but you won’t get the job when you’re being compared with a lot of other capable people who are dressed better,” explains Zoller.

Overall, how you dress is one of the few elements of an interview that you control 100 percent. By dressing well for an interview, you not only tell the potential employer that you’re serious and willing to put forth the effort, but you also show them that you respect their authority and want to impress them. Once you’ve secured a place in the company and have proven to be a good fit, you can introduce more of your natural flair and style into your wardrobe. In the meantime, stick with conservative, modern attire and avoid anything flashy, threadbare, or otherwise distracting from your superb portfolio and dashing personality.

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