Appearance at the Interview

There are some things about an interview that you cannot control Appearance is not one of them. Consider conservative very carefully.

The key word for all business interviewing (regardless of the position you are seeking) is conservative. An applicant can never go wrong displaying conservative demeanor during a job interview. Proper planning beforehand can help make the experience easy, beneficial, and almost pleasant However, lack of planning will be recognized immediately by a competent interviewer.

An important part of the pre-planning stage is appearance. Studies indicate that an applicant’s appearance is the most important part of a first impression, created during the first few minutes of a job interview. The fact is, if you provide a positive first impression, you will be considered for the position a high percentage of the time. On the other hand, if you provide a negative first impression, you will be rejected for the position a high percentage of the time. These percentages vary, but remain consistent with that age-old saying: You never How to dress for a job interview get a second chance to make a first impression. The first impression is based primarily on appearance, and secondly on communications skills and basic interviewing practices. There are other principles that come into play here, as well. Employers believe that people are more productive when they are dressed well. Further, an applicant should dress for a position as if applying for a job one or two steps higher than the one being interviewed for. Many years ago, these theories could have been ignored or argued. Hiring was accomplished by evaluating proper education, skills, work experience, or any combination of the three. But in today’s society, with the incredibly competitive marketplace, the criteria of impact packaging has toppled any previous standard of hiring. Yet, there are applicants who sincerely believe that the way they look is not terribly important and that their appearance does not truly affect their changes of getting a job, as long as they are qualified. Only minor preparation takes place for some people in the appearance arena, and this is a mistake. Upon polling interviewers, it was found that at the outset of a job screening (usually the first three minutes), several things unconsciously occurred. Many interviewers noted that the first items observed in that three-minute time frame were whether the applicant was the same or different from him/her.


  • Is this applicant male or female?
  • What is the approximate age of this individual?
  • What is the ethnic background of the applicant?

In other words: Is this person the same gender as I am, near my age, and of my same race or ethnic background? These thoughts or observations are not negative or positive – though at first glance they may seem to be. They are just unconscious observations. This thought process occurs without the interviewer even realizing it. Unfortunately, there is nothing an applicant can do about such facts, not even for the perfect position. However, the next question – or observation – offers the applicant some control. What about this person’s appearance? In addition to the actual physical appearance, a physical presence must also be maintained as part of the conservative interview package: poise, eye contact, confidence, and smile. Wear basic, conservative clothing for interviewing. Though a positive trend in society might be to dress according to the most recent fad, just one conservative interviewer can make the practice a risk for the applicant. Although a conservative interviewer might make a negative judgment due to an applicant’s trendy clothing, a chic interviewer will usually not make a negative judgment if the applicant is dressed conservatively. Conservative behavior is respected across the board.

Make an effort to wear what you feel good in and something that you feel looks good on you. When you feel good about your appearance, it will show in the way you carry yourself and your overall performance. Choose colors and styles that accent your personality, but never wear clothing that is too flashy. Women should reject low-cut clothing. Men should avoid too-short pant legs, outlandish ties, and clothing that does not fit appropriately. Party clothes and blue jeans are not acceptable – no matter what. After you ready yourself for an interview, take a long look in the mirror. Women should not have runs in stockings, poorly applied (or too much) makeup, excessive jewelry, or glittery hair accessories. Men should not have stained ties or wrinkled shirts. Employers are very good at making connections: sloppy appearance often equals sloppy job performance. Basically, common sense is required. Ask yourself: Is there a slim possibility that what I’m wearing might make a negative impression on someone? Take into consideration the time needed to affect the perfect appearance. Once accomplished (before the interview), you will be better equipped to handle the other intricacies of the process without worrying about the physical judgments being made about you.


At a job interview, even one of the following items can negatively affect that first impression:

  • Chewing gum or smoking
  • Physical habits such as tapping fingers or clicking pens, bouncing legs or shuffling feet
  • Messy or unclean hair
  • Negative body odors or strong cologne/perfume
  • Visible tattoos
  • Torn or patched clothing
  • Unusual hair, such as lettering cut into it, spikes, bleached, odd colors
  • Too much jewelry or jewelry attached to odd places visible on the body (such as nose piercing)
  • Worn or unpolished shoes; gym shoes
  • Any form of poor grooming

Written by: Dinah Courtney

How to Dress for your Interview

The first three minutes of your interview are most critical because you get but one chance for a good first impression. Before you can utter your first word, your appearance has already spoken volumes about you. While it does not speak of your job skills, your appearance will be judged in some respects by what you wear. Therefore, your clothing should not only make you feel good about yourself but also project a professional image matching the requirements of the position and the company.

The key to projecting a professional image is, first and foremost, to dress tastefully and conservatively. Beyond that, the guidelines are simple.

Guidelines for women

Dresses, suits: conservative business suit or dress of a natural or woven-blend fabric in a soft color complementing your skin and hair color — blue, navy, gray, beige, tan or brown. Skirt length should be at least to the bottom of the knee.

Blouses: simple style, white or soft colors. Avoid very frilly styles and low-cut necklines.

Shoes: sensible shoes; polished pumps or medium heels in a color that matches your outfit.

Hose: natural, beige, or tan; avoid patterns or lacy stockings.

Purse: (optional) small or medium size in a color that goes with your outfit.

Nail polish: either clear or conservative color.

Makeup: moderate.

Jewelry: simple, minimal. One set of earrings only. No more than one ring on each hand.

Guidelines for men

Suits: dark blue, gray, brown, or very muted pin-stripes. A good-quality woven blend of natural fibers looks professional. Suits should be properly tailored and freshly dry-cleaned.

Shirts: a good quality, white button-down or white classic collar preferred. Most importantly, make sure the shirt is pressed.

Ties: silk or good quality blends only. Conservative stripes or paisleys that complement your suit. The tip of a tie should end near the center of the belt buckle.

Shoes: highly polished slip-ons or laced dress shoes in black, brown, or cordovan. Dark socks.

Facial hair: no beards; mustaches are a possible negative. If you must, make sure it is neatly trimmed.

Jewelry: no chains, bands, or necklaces showing. No rings other than wedding ring or college ring. No earrings (if you normally wear one, take it out.)

For both women and men

Well-groomed hairstyle.

Clean, manicured fingernails.

Minimal perfume or cologne. Best if applied at least two hours before the interview. A little goes a long way in a small, closed interview room.

Empty pockets? no tinkling change or bulges.

No gum or cigarettes.

No body piercing (nose rings, eyebrow rings, etc.)

Pay attention to even smallest details. Interviewers often consider the condition of your shoes as a way to tell whether you pay attention to detail. To that end, avoid shoes that are not shined or that have run-down heels.

Suppose it’s a dinner interview?

The dinner interview may be a semi-formal or formal function. The written invitation will usually indicate whether the event is semi-formal or formal. For the semi-formal dinner, men’s wear is typically a nice, dark colored suit with a white shirt; women may wear a knee-length business suit or a cocktail length dress. For a formal dinner or a black-tie event, men should wear a tuxedo with no tails, and women, a long dress with matching shoes. Low-cut, sexy dresses or colorful, far-out ties are not appropriate for either of these functions.

Just use common sense

If you show up for your interview dressed in business attire and your potential employer is not, don’t worry. It is far better to be dressed professionally than to be dressed too casually. Employers want people who are broad based in their abilities to learn, grow, and contribute, employees who are flexible. Being dressed in a suit won’t hurt your ability to be seen as someone employable.

Remember, your competence is not based on what you wear but rather on your business and personal knowledge and skills. Clothing simply allows you to state who you are and helps you to reach your professional goals. Appearance can be a powerful and useful tool in controlling the kind of message you send to others. With a little common sense and attention to details, you can easily make sure that first impression is your best.

Written By: Sher Creel

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