When I began to market my consulting services to larger companies, I used to scout those companies by visiting their lobbies to see how people dressed, spoke, and acted so that I could gain some insight into their culture. By mirroring the attire of the most polished people in the company, I was able to instantly establish a comfort zone with interviewers and, more often than not, I would win the contract. All by trying to achieve the effect that, in the interviewer's mind, I was already "one of them."
Do you want to show an interviewer that you're detail-oriented? Use your interview attire to send the message. You don't need to spend a lot of money to look professional. Choose your attire carefully, pay attention to small details, and you'll make a good first impression.
Create and Maintain a Signature Look
Clothing is the outward expression of the inner person. It's important to dress in a way that sends the right message but also looks effortless and natural. It's better to be overdressed than under.
Don't be a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen. Plan and lay out what you're going to wear several days before the interview, so you'll have time to shop or get garments pressed and cleaned. The darker and more solid the colour, the more elegant and authoritative. With the possible exception of creative fields like advertising or computer programming, it's best to stick with navy, black or grey.
For women, you have a choice between a pantsuit or a skirted suit. Again, do your homework. For example, when Accenture recruits on college campuses, the firm recommends skirted suits for the first two rounds of interviews, with pantsuits acceptable for the third round. Take your cue from your research into the company and its culture. You might go wrong wearing a casual pantsuit, but it's almost impossible to go wrong wearing a skirted suit. You can wear matching or coordinating top and bottom. Make sure your skirt length is not too short so as to be distracting to the interviewer. The cardinal rule is that it's all about your fit with the company.
Accessorize with colourful scarves to add your unique signature. Carry a simple handbag, and keep it in the same colour family as your shoes or complimentary to your clothing. Also, if you are carrying a briefcase, choose a smaller purse. Avoid noisy and oversized jewellery; opt for a more refined look and make sure your shoes are in perfect condition. No scraped heels or scuffed leather.
Men, coordinate your shoes and socks with your suit. Socks should match either the shoes or suit color, and be certain that your shoes are freshly shined. The belt and the shoes should be the same color, and the socks should be executive-length so you don't expose hairy legs if you happen to like sitting with your legs crossed. You might want to check out to see that the soles of your shoes are in perfect condition if you intend to sit in this fashion. If you carry a briefcase, it should also be clean and well-kept. And please, no tie clips, pocket protectors, suspenders worn with a belt (!) or thick rubber soles with a power suit.
Wear your tie as your signature. It should be silk, and elegantly knotted, like a full or half-Windsor or a four in hand. Choose the type of tie depending on your audience. Stripes and repetitive small patterns typically are appreciated by the more conservative interviewers. Wear bold abstract patterns when you are meeting with creative people and bring out the power tie (red or yellow with strong repetitive patterns) for negotiating your salary. The tie should not extend below your belt. And please, refrain from wearing short-sleeved t-shirts or singlets under your shirts if they are of a thin weave. You don't want the interviewer to think, fearless executive by day, longshoreman by night.
The Four Food Groups
As my mother used to say, there are four main food groups: hair, teeth, hands and feet. They are your biggest assets in making a professional impression, and the first things people notice. Everyone should have a recent, stylish haircut, freshly brushed and dentally-cleaned teeth, well-groomed nails and polished shoes.
Makeup enhances your visual presence; not to look like a runway model but to demonstrate that you take pride in your appearance.
Eye contact is critical in a job interview so invest in subtle shades of color to showcase your eyes. Wear black mascara for definition and some blush with lipstick or lip gloss to accent your look. Nail polish completes the frame of this picture so choose a subtle color rather than black/purple selections. Ditch the long fake extensions and keep your nails at a conservative length.
You will be judged by many things so don't overlook the condition of your nails. Dare I suggest a manicure? (without polish of course!)
For both Men and Women:
Invest in a tasteful pen. Ditch pens that advertise hotels or plumbing companies. A is not necessary, but bring along a pen that shows you have good taste. If you are going to write notes, bring along a leather bound portfolio with a lined pad inside. Always give out your business card with your name facing the person. When you receive the interviewer's card, look at it to determine their title and leave it on the table until you leave. If you forget their full name, you just have to glance down. If you are meeting with several recruiters, lay out the cards in the order that they are sitting to avoid mixing up their names.
Directing the Interview
My good friend Debra Fine is the author of the bestselling book The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep it Going, Build Rapport and Leave a Positive Impression. Among the tips she offers for tilting the interview table in your direction are these two gems:
- Be a good listener. Come across as relaxed and at ease. Smile and appear approachable, making eye contact and responding with verbal cues to show you hear what the speaker says.
Verbal cues include these phrases: "Tell me more." "What happened next?" "Give me an example of what you mean," "How did you come up with that idea?" and so on. Using these and similar cues shows you are an "active" listener.
- Dig deeper. Take your time during conversations to ask follow-up questions that dig a little deeper. For example, if someone just described their company's new IT policy, ask about the previous policy or what the company hopes to gain by implementing the new policy. You are showing your interest in the company while planting the seed that you are thinking about the company's future success.
Reading the Cues
It takes skill to read lips, and a genius to read minds. But during the course of an interview, we all give off clues about what we think of the person across the table. This is an opportunity to read between the lines, according to Lynn Hazan of based recruitment firm Lynn Hazan and Associates. She says you know it's going well when:
- They show positive body language like nodding, smiling, leaning forward and jotting down information about you.
- They say that there are some other people they would like you to meet. They may even introduce you to people following your first interview.
- They discuss events surrounding the company and how you would fit in.
- They ask about your availability and ask if that works for you.
- They share specific information about the role that you know will help you in future interviews within the company.
- They use positive words like, "Yes, go on ...," "This is good ..." or even "I like what I am hearing, tell me more ..."
Keeping It Real
A big turnoff for interviewers is candidates who are unprepared, and discuss hypothetical concepts instead of real-life examples during the course of an interview. That lack of preparation can turn around and bite you, according to Don Hribek, Vice President of Strategic Accounts, U.S. Endocrinology, at EMD Serono, Inc., so registers his displeasure in such cases as follows:
"I push my chair back, put the pen down on the table, cross my legs and fold my hands. It sends a strong physical message. I become the Simon Cowell (of American Idol fame) of interviewers."
A final grace note. The biggest mistake people make once they have achieved their immediate job objective is to fall victim to amnesia. By that I mean, after a few months on the job, they gradually forget all those good practices that got them where they are and become too comfortable, in attire, attitude and actions.
This is dangerous. You risk senior management not noticing you, or worse, noticing you have become like everyone else, when they thought you were coming on board to shake the fruit out of the trees.
Maintain and try to raise your standards. Seek out an image consultant if dressing isn't your strength. And remember to be consistent in dress and behavior in each interview. Wishing you visibility, polish and to be the "chosen" candidate.
About the Author:
Roz Usheroff founder of The Usherhoff Institute has gained an international reputation for helping others achieve results. She is skilled at executive coaching, management development, sales training, and individual consulting.
© Roz Usherhoff, 2009. Reprinted with permission.