Job searching is heavily influenced by first impressions. Many times, as job seekers, we focus on our qualifications and assume that the smartest candidate will win out.
Think again! Very often, hiring decisions are heavily influenced by first impressions.
As sad as it is, it makes sense. It’s difficult for a hiring manager to know who the good candidates really are based on your resume and a thirty-minute interview. So, they begin looking for other cues to draw hints from. Very often, those cues are in your clothes.
Unfortunately, when it comes to what to wear, there’s no one answer that will always work.
For many jobs, a standard suit is the best answer. Pick a suit in black, grey, or blue. A white or blue shirt is often the safest bet. Then, pair it up with a simple tie (for men) or simple jewelry (for women). Add in a pair of polished black leather shoes and you’re ready.
But, for other jobs, a more casual or hipper look is in order. For example, I once interviewed at a high end clothing company known for making casual clothes using natural fabrics in Southern California. Walking through the company’s front doors, many people gave me an odd look. I was wearing a very serious looking black pin-striped suit created with a synthetic fabric — and high, high heels. They were wearing natural fabrics like cotton and linen — along with sandals and flipflops. This situation can immediately send a signal that you aren’t a fit with the culture.
Advertising agencies are also a good example of this. When walking into an agency, you’ll want to have on a little more color, a little more attitude, and bring out your personal creativity. Agencies want to know that you can think out of the box and will be a fit with their culture. This is especially important if you’re transitioning from a more corporate environment to an agency.
If you are unsure about what to wear, ask a friend who works at the company. They should be able to provide clear direction on what normal interview attire looks like there. If you don’t know anyone on the inside, another potential option is to casually ask the HR recruiter who is scheduling your interviews.
Remember, chances are good that you’ll always be dressed a notch up from your hiring manager. That’s normal.
And be cautious. Do not be lured into the trap of casual Friday. Just because you may interview at a formal company on a Friday does not mean you should wear jeans. The entire company may be in jeans, but they aren’t interviewing for a new job. You are!
Whatever you do, remember to keep your hair, nails, and makeup to a minimum. Leave the perfume and cologne at home. The last thing you want to do is offend someone by your smell.
There’s one last consideration you should keep in mind when it comes to what to wear. It’s always very important to keep your job search a secret. Wearing a fancy suit to your current company will send the message that you’re interviewing for a job. If you need to, change clothes on the way to your job interview. I once changed in a fast food restaurant bathroom to avoid being detected at work.
But, if you do get caught looking nicer than usual, play it cool and nobody will know the difference. Years ago, I was working as a marketing director while actively interviewing. Someone stopped me in the hallway and said, “Do you have an interview today?” in a curious voice. I casually replied, “Everyday is an interview!” and kept walking. The person never suspected a thing.
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