Thursday, February 4, 2010

Is Your Interview Attire Helping or Hurting You?

“Clothes don’t make the man, but clothes have got many a man a good job.”
 - Herbert Harold Vreeland
Today's post is a guest article written by Susan Mowder of the Style Principle, a wardrobe consulting firm.

Congratulations, you’ve got the interview!

Believe it or not, that may have been the easy part. Now, what will you wear? In today’s job market, there is no one right answer.

Industry expectations, company environments and your experience are all part of the equation.

Interviewers hope that you are the perfect combination of the skills on your resume and the ideal fit for their company.

Due to limited time, right or wrong, much of their decision will be based on your first impression—the first 5-10 seconds of interaction. Since few words are exchanged in that time, the way you look must speak volumes. Your ultimate goal is to visually present every quality and experience stated on your resume, tweaked to fit the company’s culture.

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How do you accomplish this with just clothes? More so, why does clothing even matter if you possess the skills, degrees and experience necessary for the position?

In the present job market, there are often many qualified candidates applying for each job opening. If your first impression is positive, then the interviewer’s objective will be to pursue additional information to continually confirm that you are the right person for the job.

Using your resume as a checklist, determine if your interview attire is helping or hurting:


Industry professional - Whether you have worked in the industry for years or just months, do you reflect your industry standards?

Even if the standard look differs from your typical everyday dress, the job interview remains a ritual that requires a certain amount of conformity to the expected norm.

  • For someone in law, banking or management, the expectation is conservative, professional dress—dark suits, muted colors, and minimal accessories.
  • If you are in a creative or cutting-edge field, you need to reflect contemporary thinking through what you wear—trendier styles, statement accessories, bolder colors and patterns.

Job experience - Are you experience and age appropriate?
In some industries, with years of experience come expectations of certain status symbols—types of suits, ties, handbags, watches, etc. If you are less experienced and/or newer to the job market, already possessing these same status symbols may work against you.

The opposite is true for age.

Those who are older are often held to a stricter code of suitable dress then those who are younger. This is true even in the creative professions where trendier dress is expected. The solution is to use as your guide what successful people in your age range in your industry are wearing.

Program innovator - Do you appear current and credible?

If you want people to accept your ideas and knowledge as up-to-date and forward thinking, you have to look fresh and emanate believability. This does not mean sporting the latest runway look, but projecting a stylish overall appearance.

Your clothing, hair, and make up should flatter your body, compliment your lifestyle and respect your industry. You want the interviewer to focus on what you say, not receive mixed messages from your look.


Attention to detail - Does everything about you reflect an attention to detail?

If you want an interviewer to truly believe you can handle all aspects of the job, take an honest look in the mirror.

  • Do your clothes fit you?
  • Is your outfit clean and pressed?
  • Are your shoes shined and in good condition?
  • Is your handbag or briefcase appropriate?
  • Is the hair trimmed?
  • Are the nails manicured?

The key is often not what specific clothes you wear, but how you wear them. Before you step out the door, ask yourself if every part of your look is helping you to be perceived the way you wish to be perceived.

Team player - Do you look like you belong on their team?

A true team player wants to do what is best for the team. Take time to find out how people at that company in the position you seek dress so you can instantly be seen as a part of their team.

This shows you respect the corporate culture of the company with whom you are interviewing. A phone call to the Human Resources department can provide this information. If your interview is with a company that has a very casual dress code, it is still best to err on the dressier side for your interview.

An interview is your time to reinforce why you are the perfect person for the job. The right image suggests the right qualifications. Use it to your advantage!

Susan Mowder is the owner of The STYLE Principle, a wardrobe-consulting firm based in Chicago, IL. Susan has 14 years of experience in the fashion industry on both the wholesale and retail sides of the business. Visit her company website at

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Related Articles:
Interview in a Snap
What to Wear? Acing the Interview

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