Dressing for an Interview is Not a No-Brainer!

Dressing for an Interview is Not a No-Brainer!

You’ve gotten the call to come in for an interview with your first choice company and you are stoked. You know it means you’ve done a great job matching your skill set with the requirements in the job announcement and what your target employer is looking for. The company now wants to bring you in for a closer look to make sure you’re a good fit for their team.

You’re oozing with confidence but not arrogant. You prepared well for the phone-screening interview, and now you’re here. You make good eye contact. You have a firm handshake that is neither limp fish nor bone-crushing. Your smile is winsome and friendly, showing you are ready and able to be part of the team. And yet, something isn’t quite right. What is it?

Ah, yes. You didn’t pay the same level of high attentiveness to your wardrobe and dress as you did with all your other preparations. Your skills, experience, and education certainly convey your worth to a prospective employer, but so does your appearance.

In general, you want to be conservative and look your best for the interview. What would that entail? Choose a solid-color suit, a white long-sleeved shirt and conservative tie for men or a color-coordinating blouse for ladies, and dress shoes, and certainly be well-groomed. A neat haircut and clean-shaven face (or trimmed beard and moustache) are a given. Ladies should strive for a hairstyle that is neat and professional. 

Generally, you want to put your best foot forward, regardless of the organization’s day-to-day wear. There are some exceptions, of course. Suppose you’re invited to an informal event during an extended interview process — a company picnic, perhaps, or even an impromptu meeting at a nearby coffee shop. Do not be fooled. Any contact with a prospective employer is an interview!  Use your best judgment and dress appropriately for the occasion, keeping in mind you’re trying to make a positive impression. 

Avoid distracting accessories. This includes bold military jewelry, like that big U.S. Navy decorative belt buckle from your last tour on active duty. Save it for another time. What about your solid gold F-18 tie tack? Perhaps it would be a better choice to wear after you’ve landed the position. Keep in mind you’re trying to convey the impression that you can and will fit in with the existing team. That might be harder for them to see if you are wearing the accoutrements of your last “tribe.” I recently had an industry employer tell me overt military accessories and attire made him question whether the individual was ready — and able — to make the move from the military culture into a civilian company.  

Be very simple in your choice of jewelry. This is not the time to be fashion forward. You want the focus to be on you, not on what you’re wearing. Ensure your suit fits properly, and avoid anything that might be too revealing. Distractions to your qualifications and abilities do not help you.

Lastly, I think it’s best to forego perfume and aftershave altogether. Others might disagree, but I believe too many people are hypersensitive to scents or have outright allergies. For the relatively short time span of an interview, why take the chance? People often douse on too much fragrance, not realizing they’ve slowly become accustomed to the proper amount and won’t necessarily smell it any longer. What then ensues is an eye-watering scene of violent sneezing. Not the ideal environment for assessing you as a candidate for the position.

Give some thought to your wardrobe, and start preparing for those interviews. Strive for balance. You don’t need to pony up big bucks for an Armani suit, but you also don’t want to go bargain basement. Focus on presenting an overall professional appearance, and you’ll do great!

Find more details about how to successfully navigate the job-search process in MOAA’s Marketing Yourself for a Second Career guide.