What Not to Wear to Your Next Job Interview
"Sorry, you didn't get the job. We hated your outfit."
Sound silly? Most interviewers won't be this candid, but it's undeniable that your wardrobe is a key factor in your first impression — especially in a hyper-competitive job market.
Naturally, your qualifications, skills, and accomplishments are most important. However, your interviewer will make an initial judgment about you before you get to say a word. You'll probably never get the chance to wow them with your great ideas if you turn them off with your first impression.
That’s why it’s so important to convey a professional appearance and choose your interview attire carefully, even when interviewing at a company with a laid-back dress code.
Avoid these seven critical mistakes to ensure that your interviewer remembers your resume and not your wardrobe malfunction.
Mistake #1: You're Too Casual
Please skip the pajama jeans and “2007 Campus Crawl” t-shirt and make an effort to impress. Even if you're interviewing at a company with a business casual dress code, remember that you don't have the job yet.
For conservative companies and jobs that require you to make a serious, formal impression (bank, law firm, corporate sales, etc.), opt for a dark suit. In fact, a dark suit is almost always appropriate for both men and women. You can always vary the shirt and/or accessories to convey a slightly more relaxed look for a more creative or casual environment (ad agency, PR firm, funky start-up).
You want to look like you cared enough about the interview (and the job) to make an effort to look sharp.
Mistake #2: You're Too Sexy
Sex sells, right? Not in a job interview. Unless you're interviewing for a gig as a Hooters waitress or Chippendales dancer (for Chippendales, a simple bow tie and g-string are always appropriate), avoid drawing too much attention to your physical assets.
You don't want to distract your interviewer with your extreme hotness or look like you're trying too hard. The focus should be on your ability to do the job.
That means skip low-cut shirts (no visible cleavage for women or visible chest hair for men), skin-tight anything (no underwear lines or bursting seams), and short skirts (practice sitting in it to make sure). Don't wear anything (including shoes and accessories) that you could also wear to a club.
Mistake #3: You're Too Sloppy
If you walk into a job interview with a stained tie or chipped nail polish, you risk raising red flags for your interviewer. A sloppy appearance can indicate a lack of attention to detail or a lack of quality standards.
Take the time to make sure your interview ensemble is clean, wrinkle-free, and in good condition. Your clothes should be freshly laundered or dry-cleaned and your shoes should be shiny.
Guys, get a haircut. Women, make sure your hairstyle is simple and professional. A business-like ponytail is a risk-free option.
Carry an emergency repair kit with a lint brush, a few safety pins, a stain-remover pen, hair spray, makeup touch-up essentials, and any other necessities. This way, if you get caught in the rain or have a Starbucks accident, you can fix the damage before you walk into the interview room.
Mistake #4: You're Too Sweaty
Some people sweat when they get nervous. It gets worse when it's hot outside, you're overdressed, or you had to run to catch the elevator.
It's not fair to discriminate against the sweaty, but some interviewers will interpret your propensity for perspiration as sloppiness (see above), nervousness, or even deception (“Why is he sweating when I ask him why he left his last job?”).
If you know that perspiration may be an issue, dress to disguise the evidence. Choose colors and fabrics that won't make it obvious.
Most importantly, plan to arrive at the interview location early so that you won't have to rush and you can spend some time in the car (or in the rest room of the coffee shop next door) cooling off and freshening up. Carry blotter tissues to deal with shiny forehead issues.
Mistake #5: You Smell
Remember that you will be making a first olfactory impression too. Hopefully, you don't have to be told to shower for your job interview and wear deodorant.
You should also avoid heavy perfume or cologne that could distract or even repel your interviewer (shockingly, not everybody loves the smell of Circus Fantasy by Britney Spears).
Finally, don't forget to carry breath mints to ensure you don't assault your interview with coffee breath or memories of your lunch.
Mistake #6: You Dress for the Wrong Job
The best approach is to style yourself for the job that you are interviewing for. What would you wear if you had the job and were presenting to the CEO today?
Make it a little more formal and polished than the everyday look for the position. They don't know you and love you yet.
You don't want to walk into an interview at a video game company or high-fashion firm looking like a banker, but you still want to look serious and dependable, like someone they could send out to represent the firm to clients.
A fashion-forward shirt under your jacket or cool accessories (see #7 below) can show you are both stylish and reliable.
Mistake #7: You Don't Accessorize Properly
Your bag is probably your most important accessory in a job interview. It says a lot about your approach to work — and it will likely be on display during key parts of the interview (first impression, last impression).
Choose a bag or briefcase that is polished and businesslike. Leave the cutesy purse or battered backpack at home. A large, more structured bag communicates stability. A sleek, slim briefcase says you are organized and focused (no "baggage").
If you expect to be showing portfolio work, prepare your samples for display on your iPad and bring it out when the time is right. As most salespeople know, an iPad is a great tool for demos. An iPad can also help you come across as more tech-savvy and prepared.
Just don't let your device(s) become a distraction. Stash your gadgets until/unless there is an opportunity to share work samples. You want to seem focused and confident, not distracted and fidgety.
Pamela Skillings is one of the nation's top job interview coaches and the founder of Big Interview, an online job interview training system that helps people land better jobs faster. She is also the author of the popular career guide Escape from Corporate America: A Practical Guide to Creating the Career of Your Dreams and has been featured as a career expert by The New York Times, Forbes, ABC News, and others. Read Pam's Big Interview blog for more interview advice.