Business

First impressions: The importance of appropriate dress in job interview settings

It is a happy day when you receive a call from a hiring manager inviting you to an interview. Your next task is to figure out what to wear to ensure that you make a good first impression. Should I wear a stuffy suit? Are khakis appropriate? Where is my black belt?

Sarah Madison, associate director and manager of Employer Relations at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics, oversaw more than 400 interviews in the Graham Office of Career Management in just the last three months.

Madison advises, “First impression is critical. Many of our employers tell us they have made up their mind about a candidate after the first question they ask. If your clothing gives a negative impression, it’s difficult to come back from that through the course of the interview.”

A candidate’s interviewing prep list includes not only studying interviewing strategy and practicing techniques for answering different types of questions, but also figuring out what to wear. Also important is to find the interview location prior to the interview day and note parking conditions.

When asked if she thought business professional attire is critical in all interview settings, Madison said, “The appropriate attire varies by company. If you can find out what employees of the company wear on a daily basis, you typically want to dress one level up from that. When in doubt, business professional is best.”

If the typical daily work attire is very casual in a setting, then wearing a suit may not be required to make a good first impression. In these instances it is appropriate to ask the hiring manager or human resources representative who contacted you what is appropriate. Keep in mind the default interview attire is business professional.

If you are in any way questioning whether something is appropriate, err on the side of caution and wear something else. Remember that you don’t want your clothing to speak for you or distract from what makes you the best person for the job.

Sarah Madison, associate director and manager of Employer Relations at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics

Rather than asking, “Can I just wear jeans, too?” try, “I am preparing for my interview next week and wanted to ask a few questions. I see on your website that the dress code is casual. I was planning to dress business professional, but I wanted to ask your advice on what level of dress you think is appropriate for an interview in your company setting.”

In an interview setting, it is suggested that men wear a suit with matching jacket and slacks along with a conservative colored dress shirt and tie. Stick with dark colors for suits like black, gray and navy. Blue or white solid dress shirts with a simple tie make for a very streamlined and professional look. Avoid flashy colors like red, orange or purple. Shoes should be shined and the color should match the belt color. Do not forget about dress/trouser socks in a coordinating color scheme to your suit, belt and shoes.

Madison advises, “If you are in any way questioning whether something is appropriate, err on the side of caution and wear something else. Remember that you don’t want your clothing to speak for you or distract from what makes you the best person for the job.”

Women have many options for appropriate interview attire. Suit combinations with pants, skirts and dresses are available with coordinating jackets. Blouses should be modest and formal, avoiding flashy colors. Closed-toed flats and heels less than 3 inches are appropriate. Conservative and minimal makeup and jewelry are suggested.

“Common pitfalls include being underdressed, wearing wrinkled clothing, showing too much skin or wearing ill-fitting clothing. Other pitfalls in this category can include wearing too much cologne or perfume or even distracting make-up and jewelry,” Madison says.

“You definitely want to try on your interview outfit in advance of the interview and make sure it fits well and you are comfortable in it. Send a picture of yourself to someone you trust and get their feedback as well.”

When in doubt, conservative, business professional attire is the safest choice for making a good first impression in an interview setting.

Amanda Schagane serves as a career counselor in the Gatton College of Business & Economics at UK. She is designated a Master Career Counselor by the National Career Development Association and currently serves as president for the Kentucky chapter of the organization. Join her on LinkedIn or email her at Amanda.Goldsmith@uky.edu.

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