Dressing for success has so many different meanings to different people that the ability to dress well seems to have become a lost art. So how do we actually need to dress for interviews and the workforce? As an experienced hiring manager, I saw every conceivable outfit walk through my door, and there are a few lines that should not be crossed:
1. Wearing revealing clothing. I've got a bit of punk rock and goth mixed with my personality, and I love a corset shirt, cut-off skirt, and ripped leggings as much as the next rocker, but this is not OK in an office! According to a survey given by the Society of Human Resources Managers (SHRM),dressing too provocatively is the biggest problem for hiring managers interviewing. While 28% of hiring managers said it posed a problem, a whopping 67% said it was a deal breaker. 67%! That's a scary stat, to think that two-thirds of employers will nix you despite your qualifications because they deem your clothing too revealing.
The solution: I used to tell employees that they needed to change their idea of "nice clothes." "Nice clothes" is too broad of a spectrum. You wear nice clothing to church, to a party, to a club, on a date, to the red carpet. None of these scenarios make it to the workplace. That adorable sundress you wore when your grandma guilted the family into an Easter service and brunch... not OK. Look at the straps, look at the front cut, and look at the length. That nice dark wash jean and that cute tank from that party? While the jeans may cut it for a casual workplace environment, the shirt never will. Neither is good for an interview.
2. Club wear at an interview. (Sorry, I need some deep, healing breaths before I start on this one.) I am a big fan of body positivity, and if you got it flaunt it, but not in a professional setting. Bodycon dresses, short shirts and skirts, super high heels, giant dangly earrings, more makeup than a stage performer, tube tops, super low fronts and backs do not work. I've seen it all and much more. Your goal is to come across as focused and professional, not just hot.
The solution: In my experience, people hate being asked to tone down their wardrobe, seeing it as an attempt to strip them of their sexiness, personality, or even of their femininity. That isn't how it has to be. No one is saying you have to dress in your mom's hand-me-downs of '80's suits and twin sets. You can still showcase your unique personality through your clothes in a beautiful and classy way. For example, keep the skirts to a decent length, no shorter than the lower thigh. If you love your shape, show it off with high-waisted, knee-length pencil skirt. Love your toned calves? You can still wear heels, maybe just go for the three inchers and leave the club height at home. Plus, you can spice up a demure style with a rockin' shoe in a fun color or texture, or both. Shirts and pants should fit. Fit meaning they lay on your body and not squeeze it into submission. No skin tight clothing, please. Neutrals are your friend in dressing for work, but that doesn't mean you can't add pops of color. Accessories are great for showcasing your personality too, just don't pile on every piece of jewelry you own. Even your nails can express your personality. Your hands don't have to be polish free and short-nailed. You can have long painted nails, just don't go too crazy with designs and nails as long as your fingers themselves.
3. Dressing too casually. If your preference is pants (like me) there are still risks at play. Dressing too casually is almost as detrimental as dressing too provocatively. That same SHRM poll found that 68% of employers found dressing too casually to be a problem and 27% stated it to be a deal breaker too. I'm going to throw this out in no uncertain terms for you: DO NOT WEAR JEANS, T-SHIRTS, OR TENNIS SHOES TO AN INTERVIEW. EVER. These things should never, ever be considered a part of your wardrobe for work. I have never hired anyone wearing jeans, and that was a job to sell knives designed for college students. I don't care how nice your Jordans are or that they are your "good luck jeans," don't wear them to an interview. You probably shouldn't wear them to the office either.
4. Be clean. Arriving dirty from mudding or working out is not how you want to present yourself. Basic hygiene is a must, think about the locker room after a hard gym day. A hiring manager wouldn't want to to shake hands with, let alone hire someone who couldn't even bother to clean up for a prospective job.
The solution: Hygiene comes down to what your momma taught you when you were a kid. Take a shower and scrub until you smell good. Brush your teeth and hair. These are truly simple things. The complications come with timing, but you have to distinguish your priority (hint: it should be the interview) and make sure that comes first. It you have an interview at 9:00 a.m. but you normally work out until 8:30 a.m., don't just run straight from the gym to the interview. That barely gives you enough time to travel to be there on time -- meaning early. Sacrifice the gym that morning. Make sure that you focus on your interview, on having enough time to at least be hygienic. Body odor, sweat stains, bad breath, etc. are all major problems that are easy to fix.
5. Piercings, tattoos, and alternative hairstyles. Most employers have become much more open to piercings, tattoos, and alternative hair colors and styles, keep in mind that they should be tamed before an interview. The hiring manager might be from a different generation where these things were considered taboo. I'm not saying don't get that sleeve tattoo you've been wanting, but maybe think about wearing long sleeves to interviews.
The solution: Personally, I have quite a few tattoos but I make sure almost all of them are covered for work. Even the one behind my ear can have my hair let down and hide if necessary. If you have piercings, most shops have clear studs that you can put in the pierced holes to make sure they don't close up but keep from being a distraction to your interviewer. Once you get the job, you can read the company policies on tattoos and piercings to maybe get some of your baubles back. A conservative hairstyle can be difficult if you have a head full of dreads or purple streaks in your hair, but it can still be done. Trust me, I've done that dance. Dreads and other styles like it can be pulled back into a bun or ponytail. A low bun is great for encasing those streaks and projecting professionalism. Make sure your face is featured, not covered. Pin long bangs back so your face is on full display and not half hidden. If your hair is a little on the awesome side, pulling it back lets the interviewer focus on your face and your words.
6. Clearly lacking confidence. There is one last item in your wardrobe that you must never leave home without and it is the one that every single potential employer will notice you don't have: confidence. No matter what job you are going for, how unsure you are, or even how worried about your appearance you may be, march in that lobby like a boss. Hold your head high, smile bright, and they'll know you are serious, ambitious, and able to handle what they throw at you. You can do this, and you can look great while you do it.
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