How to Dress to Impress for the Job You Want

Your career is your number one financial asset and because of that performing in an interview is crucial to your future financial success. Everyone values looks. It’s shallow I know but first impressions matter especially during an interview. You should dress as well as you can for the interview. It’ll increase your odds of getting a job and will help make you feel more confident about yourself which will show. Someone who looks better will still have to perform but won’t have to perform as hard as the next person.

Know that the average interview is 30 minutes to 45 minutes in length but a good first impression is closer to three seconds. Imagine that, most employers would have already judged you within that period of time and are looking for verifying evidence to support their conclusion. It’s your job to ensure this process starts on the right foot by dressing well. If you started a bit awkward because you were nervous, they may think a certain way, and then if they see that your shoes are dirty, or your clothes are wrinkled, that verifies their initial impression, right or wrong. You must get your appearance right during an interview.

Before choosing an outfit, research the company to see what the dress code might be. If you don’t know, you can ask someone who works there to see. If it’s a business environment dress formal business attire. For men, this is a suit and tie. For women, a tailored dress, pantsuit or skirt suit.

Remember, your outward appearance is a reflection on how much you’ve invested in yourself. Employers look at that and make a judgement call on whether they want to hire you or not. Over a career, this can equate to tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional income if you score the job you want, not to mention the compound effect if invested in the stock market.

In this article, I will first focus on men and then talk about what to wear for women.

There are three factors to consider when you want to dress to impress for your interview:

  • Hygiene
  • Wearing clothes that fit
  • Wearing clothes that match

1) Hygiene

I shouldn’t have to mention the following, but I will make it clear (more for the men, sorry guys):

  • Showering. Have a shower on the morning of your interview. You want to be looking and smelling fresh. Cologne or perfume is optional but I typically go without cologne because the smell is subjective.
  • Haircut. If you’re due for a haircut, get one done a few days before your interview to avoid the “new haircut” look.
  • Flossing. The last thing you want is bad breath during your interview. I also often chew gum a few minutes before since I may have coffee breath but you must spit it out before your interview starts. Nothing is ruder than chewing gum during an interview.
  • Clean fingernails. Your interviewer will likely look at your hands at some point during the interview, keep them clean. If you bite them, try to let them grow at least a few weeks out.
  • Clean clothes. This should go without saying but don’t wear anything with a stain or with wrinkles.
  • Little or no facial hair (men only). As a man, if you prefer having facial hair, keep it groomed. Otherwise, get rid of it. I like to have a few days stubble at all times but I groom it every day to keep it the same length and the hairs even.
  • Shine your shoes. If your shoes are kept clean it gives the impression that you take care of the details.

2) Clothes that fit

Most men wear clothing that is too big including their suits but the same advice applies to women. Fit is way more important than how much you paid for your suit. You can have the most expensive clothes in the world but if they don’t fit you will look ridiculous. A cheap suit can look good if it fits properly. If you don’t know your size ask to be measured at a tailor. Most department stores that sell suits will be able to measure you and some offer free one on one personal styling sessions like Nordstrom.

Some rules to follow:

  • With shirts, shoulder seams should extend to the end of your shoulder, not further. If it goes further, it is too big.
  • Your cuffs should not go past the wrist bone.
  • The bottom of your pants should rest gently on top of your shoes.
  • If your pants are exposing your socks when you walk, they are too short.
  • When in doubt, wear tighter fitting clothing over looser. Form-fitting clothes will always look more attractive than big baggy shirts and pants no matter your body build.

3) Matching

Men

It took me years to figure it out the hard way on how to match my clothes. Some simple rules to follow are that belts should match your shoes or accessories. Socks should match the colour of your dress pants, or if you’re like me, wear fancy socks that have similar colours to your shirt. Accessories should be gold or silver like a ring or a watch.

To keep it simple, pick up a navy blue suit, a charcoal gray suit, and if you’re a little more adventurous, a blue suit. These are classics, versatile, and will never go out of style. Black suits can be added to your wardrobe later as they normally are worn either at a black-tie event or at funerals. Your suits should be single-breasted, with 2 to 3 buttons (I prefer 2 as it’s more modern) with a tight fit.

Then pick up a black belt and black shoes, a brown belt and brown shoes, and then a dozen or so shirts. If the office is more formal, pick up a few ties to wear to your interview. Your tie should complement, not compete with your shirt. Your tie should always be darker than your shirt. Ask the employees that work at the store to recommend a good shirt and tie combo if it’s hard to determine what looks good. Then mix and match. Another option I find invaluable it to take a female friend to give you an unbiased opinion to see what fits and looks good. I did this for years before I developed my sense of style.

If you’re interviewing for a more casual environment, wear business casual. This means cotton or khaki pants, and cotton long-sleeved shirts or sweaters. Layered looks also look professional like having a white collared shirt under a long-sleeved sweater. A sports jacket can also help elevate your look.

Women

Having a well-made blazer that will last is a staple you should have in your wardrobe. Can’t go wrong with navy and will be one of the best investments you make. You can wear it on numerous occasions and works with a dress shirt, blouse, or even a dress that goes down to the knee, and then pair it up with khaki pants or a khaki skirt. For button-down shirts, white, blue, and pink are classic but feel free to switch it up. The neckline should be modest and avoid showing cleavage. Cover bare arms with a blazer.

Another staple would be owning a well-cut dress, tailored pants, or a black pencil skirt to sit comfortably in. Solid colours are a good choice. For shoes, close-toed low heels or comfortable neutral flats make the most sense. Neutral colours will go with more outfits. A good look would be to pair a pencil skirt with a shirt and blazer. If you’re wondering about colours, black, white, and grey would be a good mix to a formal interview.

For business casual, pairing up a sweater with black dress pants works wonders. A cardigan can work that fits well. The idea is to dress up but not be too dressed up.

Summary

In short, you should dress for the role you want, not the role you already have. How you dress during your interview and after sends a number of signals about how you view yourself, how much respect you have for your work, and what groups you identify with. Dressing inappropriately for an interview conveys that if you can’t dress properly, then you will have difficulties handling more important matters whether that is right or wrong. Lastly, while the interview is the first step, you will be constantly evaluated and re-evaluated by everyone around you once you get the job so take care of your everyday appearance. If you dress well, you will have a higher chance of scoring that job, and make a lot more money that can be invested in.

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