One of the most frequently asked questions I receive on campus is, “How should I look for a job fair or interview?" While professional attire should represent your personality and preference, here are five tips to make the most out of your interview image.
1. Interviewing is visual. People (recruiters included) have an immediate, more positive reaction to meeting someone who is similar in appearance standards than someone who is dissimilar. This means matching the dress code for a targeted company gives you a better chance of making a great first impression. For example, if you are looking to interview with a consulting firm, take a look at the bios presented on its website as well as profile pictures of key company leaders on LinkedIn to determine if it is a conservative, fashionable or a more business casual environment. You do not need to be a clone, but a little fashion recon before a career networking event or interview goes a long way. In advance of the meeting you can always ask an employee the preferred interviewing attire. And, of course, when in doubt about the environment, err on the side of conservative professional. I have yet to hear a hiring authority dismiss a candidate because he or she was dressed too professional.
2. Details count. Not everyone is into fashion. And thankfully, an eye for fashion is typically not needed to be successful in most jobs. However, paying attention to the visual details of your look conveys preparation, planning and respect for those you meet. Make sure to check for details that can damage your appearance such as wrinkles, stains, iron marks, smells, scuffed shoes, worn out belts, weathered/mismatched socks and unkempt nails. At least a day before, when you still have time to run to the store or do laundry, try on your outfit – all of it. Do your clothes fit right or are there gaps where undergarments can be seen? Can you extend your arms to shake hands, sit down and stand comfortably in them? Look in a mirror while sitting down. Does the outfit still look professional and portray you well? If there are issues with any of these areas, make a change. Not only will the right ensemble look better, it will also free your mind to concentrate on the interview questions, not on hiding the coffee stain on your shirt.
3. Minimize distractions. To make a great impression, minimize the things that pull focus away from you and your conversation. A common distraction is the result of wearing perfume or cologne. If someone does not like your scent, he or she is not going to want to spend any time with you. Few things can rival the clean smell of good deodorant. Keep makeup to a professional minimum. Not only do you run the risk that the interviewer may prefer a more conservative look, but heavy makeup has a greater chance of smudging, smearing, bleeding and sticking to your teeth when nervous. Pare back jewelry and accessories. You don’t want the interviewer to remember you for the bracelets that clanged every time you moved your hands while speaking. This is also a great time to remove plastic, string and rubber jewelry and optional piercings – you can put them on as soon as you leave.
4. Mind the baggage. If you can leave your large purse, backpack or briefcase behind, do. Baggage is not only cumbersome, but it can wrinkle your clothes, make it hard to have free hands for shaking or present a tripping hazard if left by your feet. A messy bag can cause the interviewer to draw conclusions about your level of organization. It is ideal to bring a simple two-pocket folder or portfolio with résumés, prepared questions, paper and pens. If you must bring a bag, make sure it is zipped and as clean as possible. It's an added bonus if it coordinates with your outfit. Just remember to carry it on the shoulder opposite of the hand used for shaking.
5. Lose the drink. I've written it before, but it bears repeating – never enter a professional networking event, career fair or interview with a drink in hand. If you are really worried about hydration, a closed water bottle tucked discreetly in a purse, backpack or briefcase is an option. However, most employers will offer you water in an extended interview and most networking events have water fountains nearby. Plus, you eliminate the chances of spilling on yourself or interviewer if you are drink free.
A job seeker with a prepared and professional appearance makes a great first impression. By taking the time to avoid the image pitfalls, you have set the stage for a positive meeting. Now, if only perfecting your résumé was that easy.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.