Oftentimes when people hear “professional dress” they think “dress up.” In actuality, the two are not necessarily the same. You can “dress up” for church, weddings, graduations, dinner or a night on the town but that wardrobe may not be the same for interviewing or networking.
So, what exactly does professional dress mean? Well, it varies from industry to industry. For some it may mean the standard suit and tie or pantyhose and heels. For others it may mean a polo style shirt and khaki pants. Regardless of the industry there are some guidelines that work across the board when job hunting.
1. Part of your first impression. When looking for a job, they will see what you have on before they even meet you or begin talking to you. How you come across has a lot to do with how you are dressed. This is especially true when job searching. Companies have to see you fitting into their team, so you have to look the part. We all know that you never get a second chance to make a first impression!
2. Dress to impress. When going through the job search process, you are being judged on everything you do. This also includes your appearance. You should be trying to impress an employer in all areas – so put some thought into what you are going to wear. You should actually lay your clothes out the night before so you will not be frantically trying to decide what is appropriate the day of. When in doubt about what to wear, always go the extra mile and dress to impress.
3. Be conservative. It is better to use caution when choosing your professional dress instead of raising any red flags. You don’t want to wear any far out colors such as hot pink, fluorescent green, yellow, orange, etc. Stick with traditional colors such as blue, gray, black, khaki, cream or brown. If you decide to wear a black or navy suit, be sure to offset it or accessorize it with another color so it won’t come across so stiff. You are trying to get a job so do not expose anything that might be a distraction such as cleavage, tight clothing, really short skirts, tattoos or piercings. It may be perfectly acceptable to have tattoos and piercings once you get the job, but you don’t have it yet. You never know what might turn the employer off.
4. Tone down your personal style. We all have our own personal taste, but it may need to be toned down for the interview. You will ultimately get the job based on your talents not whether you are the “best dressed.” Just because you would wear leopard print shoes if you were having dinner with someone, doesn’t mean those leopard print shoes are appropriate for an interview. Also, don’t wear too much make-up, jewelry or perfume/cologne. When you leave the interview you want the interviewer to still have your skills and qualifications on his mind not what fragrance of perfume you were wearing. Ladies, do not wear jewelry that makes noise. When you go to shake someone’s hand, you don’t want the bangles on your wrists be clanging.
5. Wear comfortable shoes. At a networking event you may have to stand for long periods of time. You also may be given a tour of the facility during the interview and may have to walk a long distance. This is not a good time to break in those new shoes you just bought. Your heels should not be too high – up to 3 inches. Men, take an extra minute to make sure your shoes are polished and in good condition with no scuff marks – the little things matter.
6. Have your documents in a folder or portfolio to complete your professional look. You need to have all your documents organized and not have loose papers in your hand. You should have them in a folder or portfolio so that they can be retrieved easily. Ladies, do not carry a purse and briefcase/bag….one or the other.
Here are some acceptable wardrobe items:
Men – suit, necktie, bow tie, button down shirt, vest, blazer, dress socks, loafers, lace up shoes, cuff links, belt, watch, bracelet (only 1), and rings (1 per hand)
Women – suit (pants or skirt), dress, blouse, button down shirt, cardigan, swing jacket, blazer, pumps, sling backs, pantyhose, belt, watch, pearls, small or medium size earrings, bracelet (only 1), and rings (1 per hand)
Nothing says you are a professional like the way you dress. Employers only have a limited amount of time to decide if you will be a good fit for their company. They like to know that you can represent the company should you be hired and have to go to an offsite meeting. Your personal/weekend wardrobe should be different from your professional wardrobe. The mirror can be your best friend in these situations. Be sure to look in it – front view and back view – before you leave the house for an interview or networking event. A rule of thumb is if you even think for a second that it is inappropriate, it probably is so don’t wear it!