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How to dress for an interview

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Of all the aspects of being interviewed, what to wear often tops the list of things to worry about.

This is because what they say is true: first impressions count. Research shows that interviewers make up their mind about a candidate in the first six minutes and 25 seconds of meeting.

Of course, your personality and subject knowledge are crucial. But so is your outfit and whether or not you look presentable. In fact, according to six in ten of employers, how an interviewee dresses is a big factor on how employable they feel that person is.

So you know that you need your clothes to be well fitting, clean and ironed, but how do you decide what to actually wear?

Too smart beats too casual

What to wear depends on the type of industry you’re interviewing in. But if in doubt, pitch your outfit slightly smarter - rather than slightly more casual - than you think it needs to be.

Many companies have a ‘business casual’ dress code, which is one step down from formal business wear. For women, think a dress, skirt or trousers (but not jeans) plus shirt or blouse, and for men think trousers and a shirt without a tie. If you know this is what staff wear at your prospective new company, you’d be fine in a suit.

But if the company has a casual dress code, business casual would be a better bet. Even if you know staff wear jeans every day, don’t wear them to an interview.

Pitching your outfit slightly smarter than the usual is important because an interview is a formal occasion, and turning up dressed too casually might imply a lack of respect.

Find out what staff wear

Your aim? To look like someone who already works at your would-be company. That way, the interviewer will find it easier to be able to picture you as part of the team.

Short of some impressive in-person sleuth work hanging around outside the building at lunchtime, you can get an idea of the company culture on its social media accounts or website.

You could also quiz your contact at the business about the dress code. At HR GO, we try to give candidates as much information about the vacancy they’re going for - including what we feel might be best to wear.

For women

What’s best, trousers, skirt and blouse, or dress? All are fine; just stick to plain, understated fabrics (stripes are fine, but garish patterns can be too much), ideally in black or navy. Add a pop of colour with one or two understated accessories like a scarf or jewellery (again this depends on the sector you work in).

Also, avoid anything that needs constant readjustment, like a tricky scarf or a complicated necklace. You want your presence to make maximum impact, not your jewellery.

What about the length of your skirt? If you can hold a pen length-wise above your knee and it doesn’t hit the hem, it might be considered too short in an interview.

When it comes to shoes, choose ones that are easy to walk in - heels above mid-height can be a no-no. Finally, to stay on the safe side, don’t overdo it on the make-up, and use perfume sparingly - if at all.

For men 

Generally, a dark suit wins every time; think black, grey, navy or brown. A plain white shirt and simple tie will complete the outfit.

Plain black or brown leather shoes are a good idea, apart from in the City of London finance sector where apparently brown shoes can prove to be a career faux pas.

Keeping things plain goes for socks, too. You might see your favourite Batman socks as a lucky interview charm, but it’s better that your personality and accomplishments leave a lasting impression rather than a dubious choice of accessories.

Lastly, three little words on the subject of aftershave: ‘Don’t. Just don’t’. Some people find the smell overpowering and even cloying, particularly in a small meeting room where you’re likely to sit.

Dress for comfort 

Having a clear picture of the type of outfit you’ll wear to an interview is a great way to help yourself feel professional, as well as cut down on nerves before the big day.

But most importantly it’s key to feel comfortable in your own skin, whatever you wear. What counts is being able to get your personality and competence across. Just leave the superhero socks at home…

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