by Thad Peterson
Monster Staff Writer
What do I wear to the interview? It's a
question millions of people agonize over on some level while looking for
The bad news is that there are few
cut-and-dried answers. As the saying goes, there's no accounting for
taste, and each interviewer has his unique sense of what's appropriate
interview attire. The good news? Deciding what to wear isn't as
difficult as you might think.
Dress One or Two Levels Up
"The rule of thumb is that you dress one
or two levels higher than the job that you're going for," explains Kate
Wendleton, president and founder of the Five O'Clock Club, a national
career counselling and outplacement firm. "If you were going for a job
as a mechanic, you wouldn't go in there in dirty overalls, even though
that's how you would dress for that kind of work. You would still go in
there and show respect. You would go in with an open-collar shirt, clean
pants and maybe a jacket."
As Wendleton puts it, by dressing a
notch or two above what's standard apparel for the position you're
interviewing for, "you're definitely showing that you care about this
job, and that you know the game."
Caution Is The Better Part of
When it's time to get dressed for the
interview, remember: It's not so much that you're trying to get the job
with what you wear, it's more a matter of not taking yourself out of
contention with your presentation, Wendleton says. "Interviewers can
decide in 10 seconds that they don't want you," she adds. "It will take
them longer to decide they do want you." Chances are good that by
dressing on the conservative side, you won't unintentionally disqualify
yourself. But trying to demonstrate how hip you are with your exposed
lower back tattoos or laid-back Juicy Couture outfit could backfire.
This Isn't 1999
Once upon a time during the dotcom
heyday, recounts Wendelton, "people would come in with nose rings and
sandals, and because there really was a severe labour shortage, they'd
She says that young, freshly minted
grads often make the mistake these days of going too casual, perhaps
confusing what once was with what now is. "These days, people are not
desperate for you," she points out. "Recent grads tend to dress like
they're students at interviews. Nobody forgives that. Not in this
Use Your Judgment
Is a suit always a must in an interview?
Absolutely not. Consider Michael Smith, who recently searched for a job
in the midst of a bitter cold snap. "Instead of wearing a suit, I wore
black slacks and a sweater," says Smith. "The sweater was large and
cable-knit but very nice and high quality. The interviewer actually said
to me that it was nice to see something other than a suit walk through
his door. And a week later, I got the job."
So be sure to learn about an industry's
fashion culture; some are obviously more casual than others. It's also
usually fine to inquire about the dress code while setting up the
interview. An Armani coat and tie or your nice Ann Taylor outfit may not
be required if you discover the dress code is casual.
"But it's never fine to go in with a
collarless shirt," warns Wendleton. And for men, she suggests putting on
a jacket, even when not wearing a tie.
Being Too True to Yourself
There are those who say it's pointless
to dress for an interview in a way that you wouldn't once you're on the
job. Why misrepresent yourself to a future employer or try to be someone
"If you want to have eight earrings and
have your tongue pierced, that's fine," says Wendleton. "But you're
showing you don't know how to play the game. If it's so important to
you, go ahead and dress like you normally do, but realize that you may
not get the job."
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