It’s probably one of the most overused phrases in job-hunting, but also one of the most underutilized by job-seekers: dress for success. In job-hunting, first impressions are critical. Remember, you are marketing a product — yourself — to a potential employer, and the first thing the employer sees when greeting you is your attire; thus, you must make every effort to have the proper dress for the type of job you are seeking. Will dressing properly get you the job? Of course not, but it will give you a competitive edge and a positive first impression.
Should you be judged by what you wear? Perhaps not, but the reality is, of course, that you are judged. Throughout the entire job-seeking process employers use short-cuts — heuristics or rules of thumb — to save time. With cover letters, it’s the opening paragraph and a quick scan of your qualifications. With resumes, it is a quick scan of your accomplishments. With the job interview, it’s how you’re dressed that sets the tone of the interview.
How should you dress? Dressing conservatively is always the safest route, but you should also try and do a little investigating of your prospective employer so that what you wear to the interview makes you look as though you fit in with the organization. If you overdress (which is rare but can happen) or underdress (the more likely scenario), the potential employer may feel that you don’t care enough about the job.
How do you find out what is the proper dress for a given job/company/industry? You can call the Human Resources office where you are interviewing and simply ask. Or, you could visit the company’s office to retrieve an application or other company information and observe the attire current employees are wearing — though make sure you are not there on a “casual day” and misinterpret the dress code.
Finally, do you need to run out and spend a lot of money on clothes for interviewing? No, but you should make sure you have at least two professional sets of attire. You’ll need more than that, but depending on your current financial condition, two is enough to get started and you can buy more once you have the job or have more financial resources.
Expert Hints for Dress for Success for Men and Women
Attention to details is crucial, so here are some tips for both men and women. Make sure you have:
clean and polished conservative dress shoes
cleaned and trimmed fingernails
minimal cologne or perfume
no visible body piercing beyond conservative ear piercings for women
well-brushed teeth and fresh breath
no gum, candy, or other objects in your mouth
no body odor
Finally, check your attire in the rest room just before your interview for a final check of your appearance — to make sure your tie is straight, your hair is combed, etc.
Go to Dress for Success for Women for specific tips for women.
Go to Dress for Success for Men for specific tips for men.
Other Dress for Success Resources
Quintessential Careers: Dress for Success Books — all the best books for making a first great impression!
SYMS Dress to Achieve — a career site created to help college students and recent grads about the basics of proper job interview attire, as well as other helpful career tips to present yourself in the best possible light during job interviews. For both men and women. No cost to job-seekers.
CareerGear — a non-profit organization dedicated to helping low-income men and men struggling to get off public assistance to obtain and keep jobs by providing men with interview clothing, motivation and follow-up support that helps them get and keep jobs. Donations of suits (and more) accepted.
Dress for Success — a non-profit organization established in 1996 that provides programs that help economically disadvantaged women acquire jobs, retain their new positions, and succeed in the mainstream workplace. Donations of suits, time, and financial support are all accepted!
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.