It's been said before, it'll be said again…and we can't say it enough: you only have ONE chance to make a FIRST impression. First impressions are, more often than not, lasting impressions and mistakes can rarely be undone. It may not be fair but it is a fact that, given a choice between two equally qualified candidates, an interviewer will invariably select the neat, well-groomed candidate over a sloppy unkempt applicant who clearly believes that appearance is less important than skill sets. No matter how impressive your qualifications and/or your experience, your personal appearance cannot be ignored. There are rules and, even if these are not carved in stone, there are some basic do's and don'ts.
First and foremost is personal grooming.
"The top four" on your "look good checklist" should be clean hair, clean fingernails, clean shoes and clean spectacles. Guys – dirty fingernails are NOT a sign of virility – if you are interviewing for an office job, your future employer is not looking for Mike the Mechanic… Spectacles: they say you can judge a clean house by the state of its windows. The same can be said for people – grubby glasses do not necessarily reflect a bookish, intellectual mindset…. Dirty shoes are simply a sign of laziness and there is NO excuse for dirty hair.
Make sure that the collar of that white shirt/blouse has no unsightly traces of make-up or grime; check your clothes for any lingering stains; double-check hems, cuffs and buttons for loose threads or stitching. Ladies – never go for an interview without a spare pair of tights, there is nothing more ungainly than a ladder or a hole in panty-hose.
If you are interviewing in a corporate setting, the wisest, fail-safe choice is a suit – for both ladies and gents. Do not ignore the season/climate: if you are too cold during an interview, your hands might shake, your nose could turn red and you may have trouble concentrating. It is often easier to take off a layer than to add an item of clothing On the other hand, if you are dressed too warmly the result could be disastrous – clammy hands, sweaty skin, running mascara, unsightly perspiration stains – the list is long…
If you only have one "interviewing suit" and you are invited for a second interview, make sure you wear a different blouse/shirt or tie. And, on the subject of ties, avoid the Mickey Mouse and Simpson type motifs unless you're applying for a job at an amusement park.
Corporate or casual look?
Your choice of interview attire may depend specifically on the environment/setting of the job for which you are applying. Do not assume, however, that a more casual or "arty" milieu is an invitation to wear jeans, T-shirts or leather jackets. If you have done your research on a company prior to the interview, you will have some idea how employees dress. As a general rule, aim to dress a little smarter that the typical company attire.
Do not dress to kill, dress to impress.
Avoid flashy, clunky jewellery and "noisy bracelets". Be conservative with perfume/cologne – if your interview takes place in a small office, even a little perfume may be too much (especially if your interviewer happens to be allergic). BUT don't forget the deodorant.
Very short skirts and tops with plunging necklines are absolute no-no's. If you have long hair, keep it out of your face; it is important to resist the urge to play with your hair during an interview.
Within the general rules outlined above, remain true to your own style. Although you're supposed to dress conservatively for interviews, this does not mean your look has to be devoid of personality! Don't masquerade as someone you are not because if you do get the job the masquerade becomes day-to-day reality. If you are not a "skirt person", wear a smart pant suit. If you can't walk with heels, wear smart flat shoes. If you NEVER wear suits, find a smart alternative.
Most of us are far more adept at recognising the dress mistakes that others make than we are at spotting our own style errors. Don't make the mistake of asking a family member or loved one for a second opinion, they may not be sufficiently objective. You will be much better off asking colleagues at work for an honest opinion of your interview attire.
And lastly, if you are a smoker, DO NOT smoke that last calming cigarette just before going into the interview – you will smell of smoke, your breath will smell of smoke and you will be branded as a "can't manage without" smoker. Needless to say, chewing gum won't mask the smell completely and turning up at an interview with your mouth full of gum is also not an option!