I was reading a blog the other day written by a woman who was livid, positively livid, that a prospective employer had made a comment that she says alluded to her less than stellar wardrobe.
I don’t know what the comment was. The post was a rambling invective against the interviewer – another woman – that referenced the jealousy of females in general, the rudeness of that particular interviewer, and the unfairness of being judged by one’s looks.
So, I – intrepid I – dared to ask the question that just had to be on everyone else’s mind: what did she wear to her job interview?
Nice new T-shirt, aqua. Capri pants, aqua stripe. Sandals, aqua. New straw tote bag. She had done her research on the company, and she knew it was Casual Friday. Her outfit was completely appropriate, and moreover, it was brand-new.
So I sit here, hands above my keyboard. I want to ask for her phone number, because there is nothing I can type that will express the depths of my internal screams. NO! It was not appropriate!
The fact of the matter is that we are judged by the way we present ourselves. With just a resume and a browse through our networking sites, an employer has just a few minutes in an interview to determine whether her company is going to spend the time and money involved in hiring us. Why risk putting any doubt into her mind by showing up in clothes that are too casual, poor-fitting, poor-quality, or just plain inappropriate?
A Friday job interview does not qualify as an excuse to meet your interviewer in flip-flops and a Hawaiian shirt. Casual Friday is for employees. They have earned it by working at the company. The employer knows what they look like in their workday wardrobes.
You, as the candidate, however, have just one chance to make a good impression. Yes, your resume is perfect, it’s posted in all the right places, and you’ve got a terrific homepage. I guarantee you that all the effort of intelligently marketing and branding yourself flies out the window when you show up – stupidly – at your interview in an inappropriate outfit.
Dress for your job interview as if you were meeting your company’s most important clients for the biggest deal in industry history. If you don’t know what the company dress code is, go sit outside their door and watch the employees going in and out. The ones in the best – most professional – outfits are the ones you should emulate.
A suit is never a bad idea for a man. The level of formality should be equal to the industry. If you are applying for a job in a law firm, a well-cut dark blue or gray suit that fits well, with a complementary shirt and tie and black shoes is the only way to go. Actually, if you are a woman applying for a job in a law firm, that would work for you, too. Suits should never be tight-fitting, loudly patterned, or made of shoddy fabric.
Jewelry should be minimal. Nothing throws off an interview like the jangling of earrings and your grandmother’s charm bracelets.
If you are in a more creative industry, you have more leeway to show self-expression through your wardrobe. Don’t get nutty with it, though. If you have a tendency to flamboyancy, edit yourself four times before you leave the house. Jewelry, funky hair, short skirt, torn clothes, and too much make-up are all deal-breakers. Picking a neutral suit or pants or jacket or skirt and jacket combination and popping it with one color is never a bad way to go. It also allows you to buy a very good piece for your interviews – which you can carry with you into your professional life – and accessorize it in several different ways.
And as for Casual Friday – hmmm. I had a boss once who, when asked if our company could adopt a Casual Friday policy, said, “We’re professional the rest of the week. Why would we not be professional on Friday?”
How to present yourself is important with tools like VisualCV as well. If you’re an artist, posting a personal photo of you in an artistic setting might be appropriate but for other professions you may not want to use the cell phone pic from your last fishing trip. A little common sense can go a long way.