Dressing and getting ready for a job interview is one of the most nerve wracking things that you have to do. Aside from your wedding day it’s probably the most thought and effort that you put into your appearance.
I’ve personally seen CEOs check out of interviews and not say a word beyond “hi” when someone showed up dressed way too casually, or even if they had on tennis shoes instead of dress shoes.
But it doesn’t have to be so difficult. There are some really good, simple rules to follow to take some of the worry out of dressing for an interview and will take a bit of the stress out of prepping for it as well.
#1 You can’t over dress
By this I mean that you can never be too dressed up. It’s not possible to over dress for an interview so when in doubt, throw on a suit. If you don’t own a suit yet, then you definitely need to buy one. You’re trying to send the right impression and nothing will do that like a suit. Even if you’re the only person in the room wearing a suit, that’s a good thing! All those people already have jobs they don’t have to prove anything. You do.
That being said…you are looking for a job right now. So chances are pretty good that money is tight and you might not be able to afford to buy a suit if you don’t already own one. So what do you do then? Well then you do the next best thing you can. If that’s simply buying a blazer (much cheaper than the whole suit), then do that. I know that Billy London sells pretty cheap suit separates that fit really well on guys with a slimmer frame. And if you buy just the jacket from them, you can turn around and buy the matching pants if you get the job and money is less tight.
#2 Patterned shirts are more interesting
So, assuming you’ve figured out some way to get a jacket or suit, the next step is what shirt you wear under all that finery. Well the answer is always a button-down shirt. If you show up with anything else on under a blazer you’ll just look silly. I recommend a nice, subtly patterned sport shirt. There are probably benefits to the classic white shirt, but I think if you’re young then you don’t want to be seen as boring, and that’s what I think of with a plain white shirt. Oxford Golf has some sport shirts that are a little bit pricey, but will last a really long time. Again, stick with a subtle pattern. You don’t want to look tacky, just give your outfit some more interest. Oh, and because you’ll be wearing a patterned shirt, go with a solid colored tie. Two different patterns is a hard thing to pull off.
#3 Dress from your head to your feet
You would be surprised how many people show up for job interviews in dress shoes…but no socks. Or white socks. Or tennis shoes. The shoes you wear, while not as important as your suit, still say something about you and about how you’ll treat the job you’re interviewing for. So, basically, you need to wear dress shoes (not loafers, not work boots, and dear god not crocks). You also need to wear dark dress socks. They should be a little bit thinner than regular socks and go up to at least your calf. Do not wear those white socks you wear to go to the gym. If you’ve got socks that match the pants you’re wearing, that’s great, but not required. And, as odd as it can feel, pull the socks up to your calf. I know a lot of people wear the “no show” socks now or fold their socks down to be as low as possible, but that’s not how you wear dress socks. They should cover up your ankles so that if you cross your legs people won’t see bare ankle and leg.
#5 Speaking of heads….
Get a haircut and shave. That isn’t to say you have to be totally clean shaven. You can rock your goatee, or mustache, or beard if that’s your thing, but just make sure you’ve trimmed it up so you don’t look raggedy and your sideburns aren’t about to take someone’s eye out. Same goes for the hair–if you really want to have shoulder length hair, go for it. But get a trim before the interview. It really can make the difference between having a different style and just looking dirty.
#6 Check for repairs and imperfections
There’s little that will ruin your getting ready groove like realizing the shirt you picked out has a missing button. Or that perfect tie has a stain that you hadn’t noticed the last time you wore it. So after you plan out your perfect outfit, make sure to put it on and check for all those little imperfections that might make you self conscious. And if you’re wearing older pants, check to make sure your hems haven’t fallen. You look pretty sloppy if the hems on the backs of your pants are gone and you’re stepping on them. But aside from the way it looks, if you’re going to put on your outfit that morning (or afternoon) and that’s when you notice a stain or a fallen hem, you’re going to feel self conscious about it the whole interview and that means you won’t be acting at your maximum.
#7 Eat… before your get dressed
This tip is two-fold. 1) Eat something before your interview 2) Make sure to please do it before you put on all your nice clothes.
The first tip, eating, is to make sure you don’t have any embarrassing stomach rumbles or grumbles while you’re being interviewed. It’s distracting for you and for them. You probably shouldn’t a big, heavy meal since then you might feel slugglish, but a snack will go a long way to making sure you’re not distracted by hunger during the interview.
The second part, eating before you get dressed, should be pretty obvious. You don’t want to get eggs or mustard on your outfit and then have to scramble to find something else to wear or get the stain off. This also goes double for drinking. Coffee, especially in to-go cups, is just asking to get dribbled down the front of your shirt. Also, before you put on your clothes, brush your teeth. Toothpaste also has a tendency of getting shot or dribbled down a shirt when you’re wearing nice clothes.
#8 No one needs to see your bling
Wearing a big ol’ watch, a replication super bowl ring, and a necklace is not going to set the right tone in your interview. I would recommend wearing 2 pieces of jewelry maximum. Like a nice watch, and your wedding ring. Or your college ring and the lucky necklace your grandma gave you. But just keep it all discreet and try to avoid any jewelry that will “make a statement.” You don’t want people to be distracted by your jewelry. You want people to remember you for your wit, or intelligence, not your jewelry. There’s not much worse than the interviewers afterwards not being able to identify you by name or experience but as “the guy with the huge ring.” Don’t be the guy with the huge ring.
#9 Groom your hands
This is another one of those basic things but try to make sure your nails are cut and clean before you walk in to the interview. There are few things more off-putting than super long nails scrapping the back of your hand when you’re shaking someone’s hand. You don’t have to get a manicure. Just clean them up. Also, if you’ve got calluses from working outside, try to put some lotion or something so you don’t make anyone’s hands bleed when you shake their hands. And use a nail file or something to clean out the gunk from under your finger nails. This can be difficult if you work on cars or with mechanical equipment, since that grease tends to stick around but if you use a scrub brush for a couple minutes and it should come off.
#10 Smell nice
People have a huge association between smells and the way they feel about people, so I would recommend wearing a little bit of cologne or aftershave to your interview. But, the emphasis in that sentence should be on the “little bit” part. You’re likely going to be in a small room with people, so you don’t want to overwhelm anyone or give them a headache. Just use one spritz of cologne on your undershirt or bare skin before getting dressed. That will keep the scent subtle. If the cologne you own comes in a can…just don’t bother.
Those are all the tips I’ve got for fixing up your appearance for a job interview. Now go get ‘em.