From time to time I get asked about what’s appropriate to wear to a job interview, networking meeting, or other event. The answer varies based on the circumstances and type of position.
The key to keep in mind at any time, however, is that first impressions do matter and dressing appropriately and professionally is a prime component of that first impression.
The way you dress can tell someone a lot about you:
- Do you pay attention to detail
- Do you think this meeting is important
- Do you care about the impression you make
- Do you care about being current
- …and other characteristics as well
So… what is appropriate dress for your meeting or event? Here are some guidelines:
~ Different roles have different expectations. Certainly someone interviewing for a Machinist position in a manufacturing environment would not dress the same as someone interviewing for an Executive VP position at an investment firm. Someone interviewing for a waiter or waitress position at a sports bar doesn’t need to dress the same as someone interviewing for an Engineering Manager position at a Medical Device company. What’s considered appropriate varies with the role and the occasion. However, it’s always best to dress at the upper end of what’s appropriate for that role.
~ Some rules apply across the board. Regardless of the role you’re pursuing, certain rules apply to every situation:
- Clothes should be clean and unwrinkled
- Pants should be neither too long or too short
- Shoes should be clean and polished
- A dress on a woman is almost never appropriate
- T-shirts are almost never appropriate
- Jeans are almost never appropriate
- Shirts, blouses, and sweaters should never reveal more than a few inches below your neck
- Neatness counts!
~ Don’t think appearance doesn’t matter in some situations, it does! Often people go to a networking event, or informational interview or other meeting that is not an interview and think that dress isn’t as important in that venue… it is! I help lead networking events each month, and see it regularly. If someone is professionally and neatly dressed, they routinely get more referrals than someone that is too casual or sloppy. If someone is thinking about referring someone they know, they are evaluating whether they are willing to subject their friend or business contact to someone that doesn’t present themselves well. They see their own reputation, to some degree is on the line. First impressions matter! Not only in an interview, but in getting contacts too.
~ Find out what the organizations standard dress code is, and dress slightly above. You will never get dinged for overdressing slightly, but will easily get dinged for under-dressing.
- If you are interviewing for manufacturing, or service jobs where the dress code is normally jeans and a T-shirt, wear (unwrinkled) khaki’s and a polo-shirt, dress-shirt, or blouse to the interview. It’s not necessary, and probably not appropriate to wear a suit, however, it would not create a professional impression to wear jeans.
- If the company dress code is ‘business casual’ it would be appropriate to at least wear a sport coat with an open collar dress shirt, or a nice blouse if you’re a woman. It would also certainly be appropriate to wear a full business suit.
- If the company is business formal, it’s critical that you look the part. A well fitting suit, pressed shirt, straight tie (tied well), and polished shoes are imperative. As a woman, a professional pant suit, or business suit with skirt, and business pumps are appropriate. Expensive clothes are not necessary. Well fitting, clean, and pressed clothes are. Details matter. Be meticulous about having the right color socks, well groomed hair, clean hands and nails, appropriate portfolio, briefcase, or handbag.
Not too uncommon faux-pas that occur include:
- White socks with dark pants and shoes, or blue socks with black pants
- A tie that is tied too short, with too large a knot, or crooked
- A beachbag-like, or nightclub-like purse or handbag
- Wearing a dress more appropriate to an evening out than a professional interview
- Sandals on women
- Casual / soft-soled shoes with dress pants on men
- Scuffed or dirty shoes, wrinkled shirt or blouse
- Business suit with a short outer jacket instead of overcoat in winter
- Open collar shirt with or without a sport coat to a formal business environment
- Pants that are too long, too short, too tight, or too large
- Skirt that is too short, or top that is too low cut
~ Bold individualism is not an asset! Although you may like to think your tattoo, piercings, gothic fashion, eccentric makeup, or purple hair show you are willing to ‘think outside the box’, it will more likely be viewed as someone that doesn’t want to follow rules. If you want the job, it behooves you to cover the tattoo, remove the piercings, and dress and groom yourself more conventionally. It may be boring to you, however, it will likely make the difference between getting the job or not.
~ Sometimes other obstacles can be overcome by a professional impression. Some people are concerned about age discrimination if they are older. Often, that can be laid to rest by presenting themselves professionally up to date in their dress and grooming. A tired old suit, tie, or shoes create an image of someone somewhat out of touch. Well dressed, with a well pressed shirt, and up to date shoes instead of wing-tips can create an image of someone professionally current. Find the right balance between up to date vs. trying to look too young. Someone young with too little experience in their field can improve the impression they make by dressing more professionally than their counterparts of the same age.
Appearance does matter, and dressing appropriately and professionally regardless of the position you are pursuing can have a tremendous impact on your success. Don’t make the mistake of not taking your appearance seriously enough!