Being a teenager is an exciting time of life for young adults. Each new year introduces exciting opportunities to gain independence, with many of these opportunities coming in the form of entry-level positions with retail companies, restaurants and other local businesses. Most teens applying for jobs lack previous work experience and are uncertain of how to approach applications and interviews. Knowing how to present yourself – from what you’re wearing to how you speak – will set you apart from other applicants and allow you to land jobs that will shape you into future professionals. These tips will help you navigate your closet when preparing for an interview so you can put your best foot forward.

1. Do Your Research

While it’s always a good rule of thumb to “dress for success,” there are times when a more casual dress code is appropriate. If no one in the organization wears a dress shirt or tie, you may come across as not understanding the company culture if you show up to your interview in a three-piece suit. Talk to someone who works for the company to find out what the typical dress codes consists of. If you don’t have a direct connection, ask to speak to someone in human relations to get more information on what people in that industry are wearing. Dressing appropriately helps a prospective employer envision you in working at the company and shows that you took initiative in the preparation process.

A good general rule when it comes to interview attire is to dress one level above the job for which you’re applying. This means that you should wear clothes similar to what your boss might wear on a daily basis. Even if you know that other employees won’t be dressed up, you’ll convey respect and professionalism. Other general rules keep in mind:

  • Don’t use perfume or cologne and avoid any lotions or products with a strong scent.

  • Limit jewelry to a watch, ring or bracelet and try to choose pieces that are understated.

  • Avoid extreme hairstyles; cover any visible body piercings or tattoos.

  • Keep make-up simple and check that your nails are clean and trimmed.

    2. Tips for Guys and Gals

    For young men, slacks and a collared dress shirt are appropriate for most interviews. Plan on wearing a tie, especially if you’re applying for positions at financial institutions, law offices or other conservative settings. Be sure to iron wrinkles out of your clothing the night before your interview, and tuck in your shirt once you get dressed. Polish your shoes for a clean and impressive look that shows attention to detail. Take the time to get a haircut if you’re overdue since an overgrown style can look sloppy and send the wrong message to interviewers.

    Women’s work wear has evolved in recent decades, welcoming pants and more casual attire into the workplace. Tailored dresses or knee-length skirts are safe choices for conservative institutions, but fitted dress pants are also acceptable for most organizations. Choose a button-down blouse for a formal outfit, or select a sweater and camisole for a more casual look. Wearing additional jewelry may be appropriate depending on the prospective employer: a statement necklace will likely be much more appropriate for a retail position that requires knowledge of fashion than for a position at a bank. Be sure to choose a top that minimizes cleavage and avoid any choices that reveal your midriff.

    3. When in Doubt, Play It Safe

    Even if you have the chance to ask around, you won’t always be sure that what you’re wearing is appropriate. When you’re deciding between items from your wardrobe or shopping for a new outfit, error on the conservative side. Interviewers should remember you for your personality rather than your clothing. Minimize loud colors and accessories, working towards an overall look that is professional, yet understated. A clean, polished presentation goes a long way when making first impressions.

    Young adults entering the workforce should abide by the same guidelines that apply to adult employees. While wearing casual attire will be appropriate for some businesses, other professional organizations might require more formal clothing. Taking the time to do research demonstrates initiative and helps a prospective employer easily envision you as part of the organization. Dressing professionally sends a strong message that you care about your appearance, understand the importance of presenting yourself professionally, and are invested in the opportunity.

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