Before the ladies reading this begin to feel left out, do not fear, the ‘pour femme’ edition will be released in due course.
My father will no doubt be delighted to hear that at least one thing he taught me as a child has stuck – ‘First impressions count’ was a big catch phrase of his. This is applicable to so many aspects of life, not least how you dress, and nowhere is this more important than in interview. It’s critical to take pride in your appearance. Want proof? Just take a look at these statistics. Of particular note is that 65% of interviewers say clothes could be a deciding factor between two candidates. With competition for roles only increasing this is clearly something you need to get right and the reason behind me writing this (hopefully) foolproof guide!
Your appearance can tell a hiring manager a hundred things: you’re prepared; you take pride in yourself and, therefore, your work; you understand the company and its values; you have clear attention for detail and so much more.
In general ‘dress to match the interviewer’ is an age-old yardstick. In fact, I’d always err on the safe side and go a level smarter. However, it is quite common to only be given the clue as to what you are expected to wear by a simple description of ‘corporate’, ‘smart casual’, or ‘casual’. In the rest of this blog I’ll attempt to navigate you (as painlessly as possible) through each of these.
Let’s begin with your classic suit and tie. ‘Easy’ you say. ‘How can I go wrong?’; ‘My flatmate’s got a spare one he never wears’. No. That sort of lackadaisical attitude is the difference between looking like Pete Doherty and looking like Don Draper. Who would you rather employ (mutual drinking problems aside)? The simplest things are the easiest to get wrong. All the interviewer should have to focus on are your words.
- Suits are by no means a black-and-white issue but there are some good rules of thumb to go by. First and foremost, get it pressed and dry-cleaned. Secondly, fit. Repeat this to yourself a hundred times …FIT FIT FIT…These days anyone can pick up a mass-produced two-piece for around a hundred quid, so the question is how to set yourself apart? The easiest way is to reinvest a bit of those savings in a tailor – something that fits you perfectly can look twice the price you paid for it.The only thing your new best friend will struggle with is adjusting shoulders, so nail these; they should fit perfectly. The rest can be nipped and tucked to taste and figure. Sleeve length should fall at the wrist bone, such that around an inch of shirt cuff is on display. Single-breasted and two/three buttons (your call). One of my greatest despairs is trouser length – so often overlooked! When standing the trouser leg should rest lightly on the top of your shoe – no excess material! This is a great overall guide. Colour-wise: navy or dark grey – black should only be reserved for giving dearest Aunt Ethel a dignified send off (God rest her soul). No patterns either.
- Shirts should be block colour; white or blue are the safest bet. Cut-away styles are a great way to add some extra class. Always buy double cuff and wear some plain metal cufflinks. Finally, acquaint yourself with your iron – there’s no excuse for looking like you missed the last train home and slept on the platform the night before.
- Ties. Simple and subtle. Block colour, striped, or pin dot are best. I mean sure, it was ever so thoughtful of your daughter to recognise your passion for ornithology with that swanky duck-embroidered monstrosity last Christmas but, please, leave it in the wardrobe…
- Shoes – polished, black, lace-ups. You can’t go wrong. Brown is deemed too casual in many places. Likewise, Brogues – shoot for Derby or Oxford styles with a rounded toe. Absolutely no slip ons. If you can’t deal with something as simple as tying your laces why should they think you’ll bother with anything else?
- Accessories are a minefield. If in doubt, go without – that’s not just for corporate environments. Wedding or signet rings only. Always wear a watch (mostly so you don’t have to check your phone!). This should be a metal or leather strap – simple and classic – you’re not deep-sea diving or keeping track of your heartbeat on an evening jog. No bracelets. Keep your socks dark. A pocket square is fine but only wear plain white in a square fold. If you wear a belt match your leather to your shoes – black-on-black.
- Outerwear can be a necessity in the winter but never wear a jumper over your shirt. This should be business appropriate (no anoraks – be a gent and use an umbrella!), so a plain overcoat in navy, grey, or black.
Not as easy as you thought, eh? Keep calm and let’s move on…
As you get more casual it can be all too easy to get sloppy; remember though, you’re not going to the pub. Don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely more room to let your personality show through but the wiggle room on what’s acceptable will be company dependent. Don’t be afraid to ask the agency representing you or contacts you have at the business for an idea of a particular office’s do’s and don’ts. I could go on for pages of detail on this but fortunately there are plenty of those elsewhere on the internet for the fashion conscious. Here are some classics to guide you…
- Outerwear should be a smart coat (trench or overcoat) in a neutral hue, or a blazer.
- Plain Jumpers are a good bet in the winter months (no novelty Christmas numbers!), fine-gauge wool, in either v- or crew neck.
- Always wear a collared shirt – button-down Oxfords are a great way to avoid looking too stuffy. Plain is safest but checks and stripes of appropriate sizes are equally welcome. Again, make with the ironing!
- Consider a slightly less formal tie in some environments.
- Trousers should be chinos at the scruffiest but suit trousers without the matching jacket are another good option.
- As for shoes, let’s start with…NO TRAINERS. Plain Derbies, Chelsea boots, Brogues, even Desert boots in either leather or suede will serve you well.
This is an increasingly common style, especially with the boom in the technology start-up space. If you’re looking to join the app development team and you’re reading this by all means, go to town! As the likely readership of this blog will be HR professionals, I have one word for you:
You need to look like you set high standards at interview so, unless expressly told otherwise, go for a smart casual look instead. Oh okay, maybe throw in a few more adventurous patterns if you want, I’ll let you get away with it just this once.
Before I leave you, I’ve got a couple more general appearance-related tips to give. Some of them might sound obvious, maybe even a little patronising (I like to think of it as more of a mothering quality), but from a recruiter’s point of view you’d be surprised…
- Make sure your hair has been cut recently and is industry-appropriate. Same goes for facial fluff – clean-shave that day or make sure your beard is neat, trimmed, and well conditioned.
- Shower! With shampoo and soap and everything!
- Use an inoffensive deodorant. IF you do want to wear cologne, one spritz will do and no more!
- Finally, take out any piercings and make sure any tattoos are covered up.
This may seem like a lot to digest and some of you may think it‘s a little OTT, but looking and feeling the part can be a huge psychological boost when the competency questions are coming thick and fast.
So, good luck, dress right, and let your experience do the talking