Dressed to impress
Professional attire projects the right image for interviews
A lucky T-shirt helped Kaitlyn Kelly land a summer internship.
She doesn’t recommend the strategy for everyone.
Kelly, a Kansas University sophomore in engineering, was interviewing for a job last fall with Occidental Petroleum Corp. in California. The company specifically suggested candidates wear casual attire for the interviews.
Some candidates – like Kelly, who wore a 30-year-old shirt from her dad’s former softball team – followed the suggestion; others still came in their Sunday best.
“It was a little unusual,” Kelly says of the company’s suggestion. “It was kind of opposite from what they tell you from all the interview sessions.”
The casual attire worked out for Kelly. But it makes many human resources professionals cringe.
“The rule of thumb is no matter what position you’re applying for, always dress above that,” says Becky Gonzales, senior manager of human resources for the 120-employee Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, 1421 Research Park Drive. “It plays a big part in their professionalism, the way they’re viewed. You can have great experience and great things to say, but it can really take away from that.
“If they’re completely inappropriately dressed, they’re not going to get the job.”
Gina Starnes, associate director for employer relations at KU’s University Career Center, spends a good chunk of her time telling students what they should wear for job interviews. That’s especially true this time of the year, when another class of KU students is looking to graduate in May and enter the proverbial “real world.”
Starnes is sold on the importance of first impressions.
“Your resume has already got you in the door, your credentials,” she says. “Your appearance – and I’m not talking whether you’re pretty or handsome – but an overall groomed appearance makes a first impression before you even open your mouth.”
What that means: For men, wear a suit and tie for most interviews. For women, wear a suit – either a skirt or pants will work in most cases.
And for everyone: Pay attention to the details like polishing your shoes, combing your hair, cleaning under your fingernails and avoiding too much perfume or cologne.
Candidates also should keep their jewelry modest, Starnes says. Men should take out jewelry such as earrings that some prospective bosses might find inappropriate.
“To me, dressing well for an interview is a compliment to the person you’re interviewing,” she says. “It says, ‘I respect you. I’m serious about working for you.'”
Mary Rodriguez, human resources director for Lawrence Public Schools, says interviewers may not even notice exactly what a candidate is wearing. But in some ways, she says, that’s the goal.
Dressing for success
Here are some dos and don’ts for interview fashion, according to Gina Starnes, associate director for employer relations at University Career Services at Kansas University.
¢ Wear a conservative, dark-colored suit.
¢ Press your clothes.
¢ Make sure your clothes fit properly in advance, to ensure time for adjustments if necessary.
¢ Groom your hair, which might mean getting a haircut before the interview.
¢ Polish your nails (for women) and trim your nails (for both men and women).
¢ Polish your shoes.
¢ Have fresh breath (and don’t smell like smoke).
¢ Cover visible tattoos.
¢ Wear deodorant.
¢ Wear a silk necktie or a tie that looks like silk (for men).
¢ Wear long-sleeved shirts, even during summer.
¢ Make sure your belt matches color with your shoes.
¢ Wear jewelry that makes noise or is too glitzy.
¢ Wear clothes you’d wear to a bar.
¢ Wear excessive cologne or perfume
¢ Come to an interview with brightly colored or multi-colored hair.
¢ Wear a skirt that is shorter than mid-thigh when you’re sitting (for women).
¢ Wear shoes with soles that have holes.
¢ Come with a five-o’clock shadow (for men).
¢ Wear brightly colored nail polish or excessive makeup (for women).
“There’s not a check-off list of ‘Did they wear a suit and tie or a certain color,’ etc.,” she says. “The basic criteria is do they have a neat appearance, and appropriate appearance.”
Starnes says preparation is key to looking good on interview day.
She suggests trying on your clothes a week in advance to make sure they fit and don’t have unexpected holes or strings.
Preparation was important for Audrey Huston, a graduate student in accounting who landed a job with a Kansas City accounting firm last fall.
“I’d been accumulating clothes,” she says. “I didn’t have to go out and make any big purchases.”
She settled on a conservative black suit with a skirt, with freshly polished black shoes.
“It’s more like a thing where if you screw up it’s going to matter,” she says. “If you fit the mold, it’s not going to take away from what you’re saying.”
Another accounting major, Megaen Breuer, followed a different path. She bought a new black suit with a skirt and a new shirt for her interview with a Kansas City accounting firm.
“I definitely wanted to look conservative, and not wear red, which is kind of a power color,” she says.
Before the interview, she made a last-minute stop in the restroom to make sure she didn’t have to worry about her appearance. She’d already done her nails and hair and didn’t overdo her makeup or jewelry.
“I definitely think when you look nice, you present yourself well,” she says. “The first impression is very important. You want to look your best and feel your best and not worry about what you’re wearing.”
Guys dolled up
Men, in some ways, may have it easier than their female counterparts.
For guys, a basic dark suit is a safe bet for most interviews.
Starnes, the KU Career Center employee, says there may be instances where less dressy might be appropriate. For instance, wearing a dress shirt, tie and khakis, may be enough while interviewing for a maintenance position where usual dress would be jeans and a T-shirt.
But Colin Swartz, a KU senior in journalism, says he’s already decided more is better when it comes to interview attire. Swartz, who graduates in December, may choose to apply for jobs that deal with Internet news content, which are positions traditionally held by people wearing fairly casual clothes.
But he already has a dark suit he plans to wear for interviews, no matter the work environment.
“I’d probably want to err on the side of professionalism,” Swartz says. “I wouldn’t want to limit myself and the opportunity for what I could do.”
Plus, he has tattoos on his forearms that might turn off prospective employers.
Brian Brewer, another senior journalism major whose focus is on advertising and marketing, says the pinstripe suit he’s had since high school helped him land a job as a financial adviser with Ameriprise Financial in Kansas City.
“I already had the pinstripe suit in my arsenal to try to hook them,” he says. “I’m looking forward to getting those first paychecks so I can buy a new suit and not wear the same jacket every day to the office.”
Even without the expectations of HR personnel, Brewer says he would do better in job interviews while wearing a suit.
“When I dress up, I feel like I’m more focused and more attentive,” he says. “It helps me get in the main frame of performing at my highest level.”
Gina Starnes on business attire
Business attire is a more formal approach to professional dress and the preferred style for an employer-related dining function. This attire will support and enhance your professional image if you follow the guidelines and tips below. These tips should also be followed for interviews.
Develop a look that is successful, polished and professional. The focus should be on YOU, not on the clothes you are wearing.
Wear clean, pressed clothing that fits properly. Your clothing should not be pinched or gap when you breathe or walk.
Check clothing for missing buttons, hanging threads, lint, dandruff, stray hairs and stains. Remember to remove the tacking stitches and external tags from new clothing.
Hair should be clean, groomed, styled and appear natural looking in color. Multi-colored hair such as orange, purple and green stripes is not professional.
Hands and nails should be clean and trimmed. Buff nails or use clear nail polish.
Wear deodorant. If perfume or cologne is used, do so sparingly. Clothes should not smell like moth balls or smoke.
Breath should smell fresh, but do not chew gum, toothpicks, candy or breath mints at the reception or dinner.
Jewelry should be minimal and not make noise. Remove all visible body piercing other than one pair of conservative earrings for women.
Cover any visible tattoos. The focus should be on your professionalism not your body art.
Cell phones should not be visible or on.
If you would wear your attire to a club, you probably should not wear it as business attire.
Business attire tips for men
Wear a two-piece, single-breasted conservative suit that is dark in color. Navy, black, dark gray or a very dark brown are safe colors. Solid dark colors or a very subtle pattern in wool or wool blend fabrics support the conservative look. Avoid shiny fabrics! A suit jacket should be lined, with sleeves that extend to the wrist bone.
Pants should come as a set with the suit and long enough to cover the top part of the shoe. Pants may be straight leg or cuffed, not billowy.
Ties should be made of silk or silk-like fabric with little or no pattern design. Select dark colors that blend with the suit and shirt. The color and pattern should not shout, “Hey, look at me!” Ties complement the suit and supply the polish that brings a professional look together.
Long-sleeved shirts should be worn even in summer. Collars should be clean, buttoned and not frayed. Shirt fabric should be cotton or cotton blend and crisply ironed. White, light blue solid or other soft colors may be worn. Small conservative stripes are appropriate. The shirt pattern and color should not overpower the professional look you are trying to create. If a white dress shirt is worn, a white silk or cotton undershirt with short sleeves should be worn underneath the shirt and tucked into the pants.
Shoes should be polished and without holes in the soles. A leather lace-up or slip-on business shoe that is black or cordovan (mahogany) in color is a good investment. Styles such as Birkenstocks, penny loafers, hunting boots, flip flops and athletic shoes are not appropriate for Business attire events.
Socks should match your suit, not your shirt! Wear dark, solid colored socks that are mid-calf length. Sock fabric selection is individual, but a light-weight cotton blend, wool or silk fabric may be more comfortable in business shoes. White socks or athletic socks are not appropriate with business attire.
A belt should be black or cordovan leather and blend with your suit and shoes.
Be sure to shower, shave and wear deodorant. Facial hair should be trimmed and professionally groomed if worn.
Wear a conservative watch and remove earrings or other visible body piercing. A wedding ring or class ring may be worn.
Limit pocket contents to your wallet, keys, business cards, writing pen. Please do not stuff your hands in your pocket and jingle your change!
Business attire tips for women
Wear a two-piece matched suit that is conservative in color such as navy, dark gray, brown or black. Fabric may be wool, wool blend or micro fibers with no pattern or a very subtle weave pattern. The suit jacket, pants or skirt should be lined.
Skirts or tailored pants are appropriate. When selecting a skirt or pants, place a chair in front of a mirror and sit down. The mirror will reveal your image as seen by employers, other professionals and your peers. How professional do you look?
The length of the suit skirt may vary with each individual. Slightly above the knee or to the top of the calf are professional skirt lengths. If the skirt pulls up toward mid thigh or higher when you sit, it is not appropriate. If the skirt is too narrow or tight fitting, restricting movement or forcing you to sit on tilted hip, it is not appropriate.
Check the skirt slit to make sure it is not thigh length or slit so high even more is revealed! In professional attire, the skirt slit is designed to facilitate movement.
Pants should be creased and tailored, not tight. Pant length should fall below the ankle but not below the shoe heel. If you step on your pants when you walk, they are too long. If the pants pull up to mid-calf when sitting, they are too short.
Underneath the suit jacket, wearing a tailored cotton shirt, blouse or good quality knit shell will complement your professional image. The shirt, blouse or shell should be conservative cut with non-revealing neckline and long enough to tuck into the pants or skirt or sit slightly below the waistband. Light, solid colors such as white, cream or blue should be worn. Small patterns or conservative stripes may be worn. The shirt or blouse collar may be worn in or outside the suit top. Select a short or long sleeve. A tank top or sleeveless shell may be worn if the suit jacket remains on the entire event. Camisoles should only be worn under a light colored shirt, blouse or shell and not as an outer garment with any business attire.
Shoes should match your suit and be made of leather or fabric. Black, brown or navy pumps with one to two inch heels compliment the professional attire. Shoes that are not appropriate with business attire include; open-toes, sling-backs, mules, platforms, narrow high heels, athletic shoes, sandals, flip flops, and Birkenstock style. Shoes should be comfortable when walking or standing. Practice walking in front of a mirror so your posture is natural and correct when walking or standing. Wear new shoes at least one or two times prior to an event.
Hose should be worn and match the color of your skin and be clean. Patterns and opaque stockings are not considered business attire. Always carry an extra pair of hose in your purse in case of snags or a run. Do not carry the extra pair of hose in your pocket.
Carry a small, conservative purse that matches your shoes. Items to consider carrying in your purse: identification, money, one valid credit card if needed, business cards, mirror, lipstick, writing pen, comb, extra pair of hose and cell phone turned off or silent.
Hair should be clean, styled and conservative. If hair is longer than shoulder length, consider wearing hair up in a neat twist or pulled back with a conservative clip that matches or complements the suit.
Nails should be professionally groomed. Wear nails short and polished with a clear finish.
Shower and wear deodorant. If perfume or cologne is used, do so sparingly. Breath should be fresh.
Make-up should look natural. Eye make-up and lipstick should complement your face. Wear matte lipstick in a conservative color. Avoid lipsticks that are ultra shiny or frosty. Do not use a lipliner that is darker than your lipstick. This draws attention to your lips and not to your professional image.
Jewelry should be minimal and not noisy. A conservative watch completes your professional image. A wedding ring or class ring may be worn. A conservative bracelet and small earrings such as pearls or gold or silver studs may also be worn. Avoid long, noisy earrings, dangling charm bracelets and dramatic necklaces.
Gina Starnes is the associate director for employer relations at University Career Services at Kansas University.