Every day we make split-second judgments about people based on their appearance, usually without even realising. These judgments influence decisions from who to approach at a networking function to who we sit next to on the train.
In the business world, a polished and professional resume can secure an interview for the job of your dreams but what about the impression you make on the day? Before you’ve even smiled and shaken the interviewer’s hand, it’s likely he or she will have sub-consciously formed an opinion based on how you look.
At a recent style workshop I attended, many participants were going through a career transition. Yet some still said they would wear jeans to an interview because that would be the dress code once they started work.
Portraying the right image can set you apart from other candidates so let’s look at ways you can do this.
Protect your image
Your image is the perception people develop when they interact with you – and perception is a powerful thing.
Image is not about attractiveness, it’s about factors such as hair, clothing and whether you look appropriate for the position you’re seeking. These factors influence your ‘personal brand’ and you want them to say “yes, I am as professional as the image I presented in my resume”.
Your LinkedIn profile may be well written – and if it’s not, we can help you with that – but does the photo let you down? Find a local photography studio or simply ask a friend to photograph you, to avoid a too-casual selfie.
A personal brand can also be visible through social media accounts and managers often search for a candidate’s name to see what comes up. Consider restricting the visibility of your accounts unless they are appropriate for the workplace.
Dress to impress
When you’re searching for a job, chances are you’ll face at least three or four interviews so a suit or new outfit is an investment, not simply an expense.
If in doubt, go formal. For men, that means wearing a shirt and smart jacket, although a full suit is preferable. For women, the same applies. Even if the role won’t require you to wear a suit every day, an interview is a formal occasion and you want to stand out for the right reasons.
Accessorise appropriately. Let your personality shine through your well-rehearsed responses and body language, not in the cartoon tie or over-sized earrings you picked before you left home.
Quality doesn’t have to be costly. Appropriate attire can be as simple as a suit or other outfit that fits well, is clean and crease-free, and flattering for your overall shape. Plus, if you don’t need to wear it in your new role, it will last for many jobs to come.
Check whether your local department store offers a free personal shopper service: personal shoppers are stylists who can help you select anything from a single outfit to a whole new wardrobe, usually at no extra charge.
Make suitable colour choices
The colour of your clothing has a big influence on how people perceive you. A black suit is not ideal for most roles as it is dramatic and formal and conveys power. Save that for when you become CEO!
Safer colours are navy and darker blues, which instil trust, and greys, which are timeless. Safe doesn’t mean boring, though; dress things up with a splash of colour such as a green tie or orange scarf, paying attention to avoid clashing patterns.
Above all, select colours that complement your hair and skin tones and you’ll feel as good as you look, which will boost your confidence.
Focus on the little things
Good grooming and hygiene are essential in the workplace – think of them as the smaller details – so it’s no surprise the same goes for the interview.
Expectations can be subjective but a few general guidelines apply:
- Wear your hair in a neat and tidy style, whatever its length
- For men, clean-shaven or beard is fine. Somewhere in-between is not
- Check that your nails are clean and an appropriate length
Don’t forget to look down: scuffed or too-casual footwear will detract from your image.
Treat online interviews like in-person
In our increasingly digital world, interviews by Skype or video are not uncommon as managers may work in different cities or even different countries from their teams.
The same effort should go into your personal presentation for an online interview – and that includes checking you’re not sitting in front of your fridge at home. The right image comes from finding a quiet space with good lighting and a subtle background, then dressing and behaving as if it’s an in-person meeting.
Start as you mean to go on
Ongoing style is important so don’t hang up that winning outfit as soon as you start the job. When you join a company, you’ll make a ‘first impression’ on everyone you meet.
If you’re unsure of the dress code, it’s acceptable to ask your manager before you start, or err on the side of caution and wear that suit again on day one. It’s less embarrassing – and presents a much better image – than being too casual, and you’ll soon get an idea of what is appropriate.
Dress up for promotions, too
People may know you as the helpful IT person who roams the building in cargo pants and a flannel shirt but what if you want a promotion internally?
Your appearance should present you at your best, so the interviewers have no problem picturing you in a more senior position. Dressing formally may feel unfamiliar at first but you’ll be competing with external candidates who are likely to be looking sharp.
It’s said that “you never have a second chance to make a good first impression”. The perfect resume may have landed you an interview, but your appearance needs to reinforce that you’re the best person for the role.
So invest in yourself and make an effort to look the part. Anything less and you’re doing yourself a disservice.