Long before I am near enough to talk to you on the street, in a meeting or at a party, you announce your sex, age, and class to me through what you are wearing, and very possibly give me important information (or misinformation) as to your occupation, origin, personality, opinions tastes sexual desires, and current mood. By the time we meet and converse, we have already spoken to each other in an older and more universal tongue.
-Allison Lurie, Author of The Language of Clothes
Appearances count, especially in the business world. When one college’s career planning and placement center surveyed 150 employers, they discovered that the number-one reason for rejecting an applicant after the first interview was poor personal appearance.
Interestingly, those employers ranked poor appearance even more significantly than being a hostile, overbearing know-it-all (reason no. 9) or late for the interview without a good reason (reason no. 28). Social psychologists have determined that it can take just thirty seconds for the interviewer to assess:
• Educational level
• Career competence and success
• Level of sophistication
• Sense of humor
• Social heritage
To avoid pigeonholing yourself before you’ve even shaken hands, putting some extra effort into ensuring your interview attire is presenting you well from the start.
Dress the part. Ensure that your attire is making the right impression by dressing for the job you want, not the job you have/had. Look and ask around: how do people who currently hold the position dress? This will vary industry to industry, and isn’t a one-size fits all solution.
Dress to impress. No matter the job, you should be dressing in a professional manner (steer clear of jeans and tee shirts for most interviews), but professional means different things in different industries. As a general rule, the more creative the industry, the more fun you can have with your outfit. An interview for a conservative position or with a conservative company may call for a suit or nice pants and a professional top (blouse or button up) in darker colors with an opportunity for personality in a tie or some tasteful jewelry. A position in an artist’s gallery, alternately, gives more room to show some personal flair in an outfit, and doesn’t necessarily call for the formality of a suit. Do some research and take your potential employer into consideration: while some galleries, for example, may embrace a just-off-the-runway look, others may be more traditional and prefer a candidate in a minimalist business attire.
Dress comfortably. There’s very little chance that showing up in sweatpants will get you the job, but dressing in an outfit you’re just not comfortable in could be equally detrimental to your potential employment. If you don’t feel good in what you’re wearing, it will show in your confidence. If the outfit is too far out of your comfort zone, you may fidget and give off an air of insecurity. If the clothes don’t fit well, you may be tempted to tug at the hems or constantly reposition yourself to be comfortable. While it’s important to dress suitably for the role, it’s also imperative to be confident in what you are wearing. Finding a balance between the two may be a challenge, but will make a big difference in how you’re perceived by your future employer.