Did you know that your interviewer will make a judgement of you within seven seconds of meeting you? If you wear the wrong outfit, you can go from candidate to reject almost instantly. Worse yet, women’s wear is so complex and creative that you can make a catastrophically huge mistake and not even realize it.
Don’t let that happen to you. Clothing makes a statement about who you are and, in an interview setting, where you want to go professionally. Not sure how to dress for success? We’ve explored interview fashion to come up with a set of guidelines to help you choose a look that will help you shine in your interview and land the job.
When planning your outfit, start with a business casual model in mind. Business casual is a look that is easy to dress up or dress down, depending on your target job. For a specific industry, check out our piece [Dress for Success in the Interview: 10 Women’s Outfits to Kill For (Almost) + hyperlink][Woman’s Dress]
First, let’s take a look at the rules about wearing a dress or skirt. Make sure the hem extends below your fingertips, preferably to the knee. Your shoulders should always be covered, so nothing strapless or off the shoulder, especially in a conservative office setting. Depending on the company culture, you might be able to get away with a sleeveless top, as long as it still covers your shoulders (and your bra strap). When it comes to patterns, keep it simple. Wear solid colors, or a subtle pattern (such as houndstooth, or pinstripe).
Next, if you’ve decided on a skirt, you’ll want to choose a great top. Again, choose a top that covers your shoulders in either a solid color or simple pattern. The following colors (according to a CareerBuilder survey) convey professionalism: black, blue, gray, and brown. The following colors convey creativity: green, yellow, orange, purple. Think about your industry as you choose a color. If you are wearing a blazer or cardigan, make sure the top you are wearing underneath is appropriate in the event that it gets hot in the interview and you want to remove your blazer or cardigan. If your top has buttons, make sure your bra isn’t visible in the front. Move around in front of a mirror and do the bend-over test to double check that your top stays in place.
Though skirts and dresses are common in women’s business casual, many women prefer pants. If you feel this way, the rules are pretty simple. Look for fabric made of cotton, silk, or a blend (no denim). Choose a solid color, preferably black or navy. As for cut, any of the following work: small boot cut (no dramatic bellbottoms), straight leg, or a structured wide leg. Cropped pants may be permissible in certain industries. If in doubt, ask a sales associate for slacks.
Now, let’s talk blazers. First, look for a neutral color to play it safe. Neutral colors – like navy, black, brown, tan, and white – blend well with other colors and are a great wardrobe staple. For length, look to see that the hem skims your hipbone. Your sleeves should hit mid-thumb when your arms are extended in front of you. After the sleeve and hem test, check that your blazer fits your waist. You should be able to button it without pulling, but the shape should remain flattering when it is unbuttoned.
Let’s move down to shoes. Most importantly, make sure they are comfortable and that you can walk. You don’t want to stumble on this important day. If you want to wear heels, your safest bet is closed-toe pumps, but you can don a trendier pair if you work in a creative industry. Remember: You don’t have to wear heels. Flats are a great (and more comfortable) option. Just make sure they’re closed-toe and free of scuffs and scratches.
When it comes to jewelry, unless you’re applying for a fashion position, keep it minimal. Stick to one of two options: Wear small, delicate pieces, or don one large piece, and no other jewelry. (For example, a statement necklace, but nothing else.)
With hair, it’s important that you keep it neat. If you wear it down, style it. Make sure that your hair is out of your face. If you wear it up, go for a classic style. A bun or a low ponytail is perfect. But how do you decide between up or down? Think about it this way: choose a style that reduces your temptation to play with it.
It’s time to talk about nails. (And, no, we don’t mean biting them!) You don’t need anything fancy. Just keep your nails neat and clean. Don’t get fake nails for the occasion. On the other hand, don’t sweat it if you already have them.
Makeup is fun, but it’s important that you don’t overdo it. It may be tempting to branch out and try a bold style but your interviewer should be wowed by your skills, not your makeup. You’ll look best if you wear subtle makeup that enhances your features. If your normal look is to wear a lot of makeup, tone it down.
Follow our four rules for perfect interview makeup:
1. For your eyes, stick to mascara and, if you like, some well-applied liquid eyeliner won’t hurt.
2. Make sure your eyebrows look groomed. Tweeze (if necessary) and comb them in place. If you don’t have an eyebrow brush, an old toothbrush will work just fine. Gel will help set your brows in place, if you choose to use it.
3. Put a little bit of blush on your cheeks. If you don’t own blush, a blended dab of your favorite lipstick or matte gloss could do the trick. Do not contour, highlight, and/or use bronzer; it will look strange under florescent office lights.
4. If you choose to wear something on your lips, opt for matte lipstick or a stain, which won’t get messy or transfer to your coffee cup or bottled water. Make it a neutral color. Exfoliate your lips the night before (a warm washcloth will do the trick) so that your lips are smooth.
Can we talk about hygiene for a moment? Hygiene is important; a whopping 56% of recruiters claim that body odor turns them off during a job interview. Don’t cover it up with perfume, though. A solid 35% of recruiters say that they dislike interviewing candidates who wear too much perfume or cologne.
That brings us to your breath. You already know that you need to floss and brush your teeth regularly to be healthy, but did you know that 34% of recruiters are displeased with bad breath? The lesson? Be aware of how you smell before an interview.
Finally, let’s talk about your purse. Your purse should be large enough to fit your resume (without having to fold it) and a portfolio (if necessary). While it’s okay to bring a separate binder with those items, you run the risk of leaving it behind if you’re in a hurry. If you wear heels, pack a pair of flats in your bag. This will allow you to walk to and from your interview more comfortably, and will be a godsend if you are running late. It’s a good idea to bring a cardigan or scarf as well, since some office buildings can be overly air conditioned. Since we know you’ll also have a cell phone, laptop or tablet (or all three) in your bag, double check to make sure all electronics are turned off or in silent mode before your interview begins. The ping of a text alert and other sounds can be a huge distraction and throw you off your game during a job interview.
Outfit, check! Shoes, check! Hair and makeup, check and check! Now you know how to dress for success for any interview. Did we answer all of your questions? Download Interview Game Plan to access a comprehensive program of coaching, video instruction, and tips to help you get the job faster.
Your interview was a nerve-rattling endeavor with impossibly high stakes…But you survived! Here’s what to do next.