Impressions are formed in a nanosecond. Before you’ve shaken your interviewer’s hand, registered his eye color, and noticed whether his shirt is blue or gray, he’s formed an impression about you. And it’s indelible.
Here are some ways to make sure that the first impression you make is the one that lands you the job.
Get business attire hints from the company website.
Do a little detective work at the company’s website. Surf around for photos of staff, company events, newsletter items, and anything else that might give you an idea of the company culture and attire. Is it a laid-back atmosphere? Or is everyone buttoned-up and conservative? Once you figure it out, aim to look even more presentable than you would need to be if you were already an employee. For example, if people are wearing trousers and shirts, kick it up a notch to a pleated skirt instead. If skirt and sweater sets are the norm, be sure to wear a jacket and skirt. By this you are demonstrating that you understand the daily dress code, but recognize that an interview is a special occasion. This will reassure your interviewer that you’ll fit in with the corporate culture.
Pay attention to compliments from friends and acquaintances.
Do you have an article of clothing you may not even particularly like, but whenever you wear it people tell you how fabulous that color is on you? This type of unsolicited fashion advice is the best kind because it’s spontaneous and honest. When more than three people have remarked on a hairstyle, clothing color, or pair of shoes, for example, take note. If you look drop dead in red, don’t be shy about sporting it to an interview. You’ll feel confident, and confidence is the secret ingredient that lands callback interviews, and ultimately, jobs.
Stay away from vintage or “previously loved” clothing.
A new suit costs $300 minimum, but your best friend just got one at the local Goodwill for only $30! The problem is, second-hand clothing may have small stains, snagged threads, smell slightly moldy, or lack the crisply ironed pleat of a new garment. They have a way of telling their story, whether you want them to or not. Old clothes are great for everyday wear, but it’s much better to go for the clean, sharp image most interviewers look for in candidates. Invest in an up-to-the-minute suit purchased this year from a modestly priced department store. It will be well worth the investment.
Coordinate every part of your outfit, from shoes to earrings.
Your shoes, accessories, and clothes should all look as though they belong to the same ensemble—instead of competing with one another for top billing. Choose one color for your accessories and stick with it. Taupe accessories look great with taupe accessories; brown leather accents complement brown shoes and handbags, and so on. Unless you are applying for a position in the fashion industry, where creativity is rewarded, stay away from funky, offbeat choices and combos.
Leave your bulky baggage behind.
Some people believe they need to carry an oversized shoulder bag or—horrors—a backpack with them to the interview. Instead, show your interviewer that you’re “executive material’ by looking streamlined and well organized. Bring three copies of your resume; one pen; your portfolio of work (if applicable); a comb; a compact (to check your teeth before you go upstairs); one package of breath mints; and one mobile device (which needs to remain “off” except in a dire emergency, like an earthquake or flood). Consider buying a soft briefcase to hold these items.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Make sure you create a spectacular one by looking the part. If you succeed in this one aim, the rest of your interview should go considerably smoother.
Vicky Oliver is the author of five books on career development, including the bestselling 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks, 2005). For more information, visit her website, www.vickyoliver.com, and follow her on Twitter (@vickyoliver).