The Job Search: Dressing for Success
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
(This is the first in a series of posts relating to the job search. Check back every Friday for observations on a variety of employment assistance topics.)
You know what they say…you never get a second chance to make a great first impression. Whether it’s reporting in to your new military unit or trying to land a job, many of us still believe that good first impressions are crucial. For the next few minutes, we’re going to take a deeper dive into the ‘land a job’ arena, from the perspective of proper dress during an interview.
Many civilians think that active military and fully separated Veterans have the wardrobe thing all figured out. They see us looking sharp in a parade or a recruiting commercial, but may not realize that while many of us were issued our uniforms, we also had it drilled into our heads exactly how to wear them…by memorizing ‘wear and appearance of the uniform’ regulations or just by verbal instructions from our favorite drill sergeant.
But when it comes to the civilian side of the wardrobe closet, especially for those of us still serving or in the initial stages of separating, things may be woefully inadequate. In fact, I’ve known plenty of Soldiers over the years that had exactly “0” civilian suits on hand. If only we could wear our most comfortable field uniform to the job fair and our service dress to the interview…
For now, let’s move forward under the premise that wearing a military uniform of any type is not an option. You may be like most other humans and cue up your best Internet search query to get smart on what you should wear at different points of the job search. During the interview process, specifically, the clothing you select is indicative of your respect for the interviewers and the companies they represent, as well as how seriously you take the interview itself. The better you dress, the more seriously you will be taken and considered. No doubt about it.
While the way we dress for a job interview isn’t the only criteria on which we’ll be judged, it is the most obvious. Other nonverbal factors include things such as your choice of accessories, firmness of handshake, degree of eye contact, and overall projection of confidence. All are important, to be sure; for the rest of this post, however, let’s focus on attire. We’ve broken down some tips and techniques into recommendations for men and women, with some general tips to serve as bookends. While we didn’t write these rules, feedback from many employers and hiring managers over the years indicates that job searchers should sure pay attention to them.
Tips for everyone. Make sure to wear deodorant, brush your teeth, and comb your hair (sorry if that goes without saying). Bring along breath mints if you won’t be able to brush your teeth before the interview, but don’t eat the mints or chew gum during the conversation. Don’t wear scented items like perfume and cologne; I’ve spoken to more than one interviewer who was allergic to a particular scent being worn, and those particular interviews weren’t exactly enjoyable experiences.
Tips for women. Acceptable attire for women usually includes a suit or conservatively tailored dress, with a coordinated blouse. Avoid blouses or sweaters that are transparent, are tight fitting, have low necklines, or have details that detract from your face. Wear plain-style, non-patterned hosiery, of a color that flatters your skin tone. Wear flat shoes or low pumps in colors that avoid making your feet a focal point. Limit your jewelry: avoid dangling earrings, and wear no more than one ring per hand and a dress watch. You may want to consider manicured nails with clear nail polish. Make your primary accessory a portfolio or small briefcase (don’t carry a purse and a briefcase…choose one or the other).
Tips for men. Feedback indicates that men should wear suits of a solid color (navy, black, or gray, in pinstripe or solid) with a white, long sleeve shirt. Ties should be conservative (silk or silk-like, tied with a half-Windsor knot) and of a color that strongly contrasts with the color of your shirt. Wear professional-looking, lace-up shoes with dark socks, coupled with a leather belt that visually blends with or matches your shoes. Again, wear limited jewelry – no more than one ring per hand and a dress watch. Ensure you have neatly trimmed nails and accessorize with a portfolio or small briefcase.
More tips for everyone. In general, dress in a professional and conservative manner. Ensure your clothing fits well and is clean and pressed. Stay away from denim. Remove facial and body piercings, cover up any visible tattoos, and fix your hair so that it’s conservative in color and style, if possible.
If you haven’t taken anything else from this short post, make sure and put conscious thought into what you wear to the interview. A good rule of thumb is to dress for the job you want five years from now, not the job you want today. Some say to choose the same clothing you’d expect the boss of the company to wear. Some will tell you to dress conservatively. The point of it all, however, is to keep the focus on the interview, not what you’re wearing.
Do your homework and know the business climate and culture of the company you’re interviewing for, if at all possible. Dress your best for the interview, regardless of the dress code at the organization. Dressing for success will feed into your confidence level, which will be on full display during your interview. And go knock ‘em dead, sweaty palms and all…
Do you have any ‘lessons learned’ from your job interviews as you transitioned from active service to the workforce? Anything that might benefit your brothers- and sisters-in-arms, facing the same challenges? If so, tell us your story and email [email protected]!