Open-toed Adidas sandals with socks, short-fitting khaki trousers, more like capri-pants, and a skin-tight checked shirt unbuttoned far enough to reveal lots of chest hair.

What you wear is just as pertinent

It’s certainly a ‘look’ and Reed Ellis, a staffing specialist with recruiter Professional Staffing Group, remembers this candidate well. His handshake and communication skills were good and so was his eye contact. But then there was the outfit.

 

“First impressions are everything but that can only get you so far in an interview,” said Ellis. “What you wear is just as pertinent.”

The dreaded job interview sends shivers down even the most confident job seeker’s spine. But worse, the associated dilemma: what to wear, and, more importantly, what not to wear.

Picking the perfect interview outfit used to be easy: a conservative suit in a dark colour would almost always cover it. But in today’s corporate landscape, the rules have changed. Jeans and T-Shirts are often the everyday norm for employees — and some CEOs. Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg is famous for wearing the same style grey T-shirt (he buys them in bulk) to work everyday. Even at FTSE 100 or Fortune 500 firms arriving suited and booted to an interview could create the wrong impression about you as the ideal candidate. So, what’s a confused job seeker to do? We ask five interview experts for the sartorial lowdown.

Steve Brown, London-based director of global IT recruitment firm Empiric

Do your research. If you are working with a recruiting firm, someone there should help you work out what approach will work best at a particular firm. If not, ask around. Do you know anyone that works there who could provide insight? Or, Brown suggests calling and asking the interviewer or hiring manager in advance of your interview. “You won’t be penalised for being considerate and prepared,” he said.

Either way, follow Brown’s rule of thumb for guys: “Take the approach that you should be dressed one level smarter than expected. So if, for example, it’s a jeans and T-shirt atmosphere, wear chinos and a shirt. If it’s a chinos and shirt job, wear a suit. And remember, it’s always better to be overdressed, than underdressed during interviews, no matter what sector you’re working in.”

Take the approach that you should be dressed one level smarter than expected 

John Lees, Exeter, UK-based author of How to Get a Job You Love

What image do you want to present? It’s not enough to just ask yourself, ‘Do I look good?’ You want to try to look as if you already work there but that you are still taking care of your appearance, said Lees. “This means wearing clothes that are just slightly smarter than those worn in the workplace,” he said. And, in order to avoid being uncomfortable, make sure to break in any new clothes and shoes beforehand. “When you arrive, de-clutter – leave your coat and bag in reception. Just take in a slim folder containing the documents you need, and you will look like an employee rather than a visitor.”

Boston-based Gwendolen Andre, group manager, Professional Staffing Group

Step it up. One of recruiter PSG’s biggest clients is a technology firm, where everyone dresses very casually: anything from leggings and sweatshirts to jeans and T-shirts. “There's no dress code, which can make it tough for people meeting them for the first time,” said Andre. In the case of this client — and others like them — she advises candidates to wear smart business-casual clothing to the interview. She recommends a jacket or a sweater for both men and women. If it’s not an executive-level position, it doesn't have to be a full matching suit. Of course, there is always “the opportunity to have a little more fun with accessories, such as a statement necklace or bowtie,” she said.

There's no dress code, which can make it tough for people meeting them for the first time

Northern California-based Gabrielle Rossi, design coordinator, Whole Foods Market

Don’t even think about denim. At Rossi’s office, the dress code is casual. If anyone dresses up, people start asking if you’ve got a job interview. However, Rossi still expects interview candidates not to wear trainers (sneakers), jeans, T-shirts, and definitely not shorts.

Having interviewed at least 20 people last year, she has seen it all. Her biggest faux-pas: jeans, chewing gum, too much cleavage, excessive jewellery, no undershirt under a white dress shirt, and clothes that are too tight. An easy approach: “I always think: ‘If I was going out to a nice dinner, what would I wear?’” she said.

Fashion fail

Another no no is when you’ve got a giant coffee stain or spilled some other food or drink on your outfit. One recruiter said sometimes "the stain is so distracting it’s as if it’s ‘talking to you’." Better to address the elephant in the room that you spilled coffee on the way in and apologise for it.

Jennifer Medeiros, talent acquisition manager with San Francisco-based Rodan + Fields

Take it up a notch. A number of departments at Medeiros’ company are very relaxed when it comes to what you wear to work, and people have come in jeans to interview and have still gotten the job, she said. But that doesn’t mean she would recommend it. And she’d rather see someone overdressed than underdressed. “I have seen [people] come dressed in a suit and tie for the interview, and honestly this has always left a strong impression with the teams that the person was willing to go to an extra effort,” she said. “It has never left a negative impact. I would not discourage someone who wanted to dress more formally for an interview. Quite the opposite, I would discourage the more casual attire because there is always room for wrong judgement calls or errors there.”

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