According to a study from former UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian, it takes only seven seconds to form a first impression. Believe it or not, 55 percent of that first impression comes completely from nonverbal cues. That means the first impression you make on a future employer isn’t based on your kick-butt GPA or the résumé you’ve spent years building but more in the way you dress and present yourself.
I know, I know; this puts some serious pressure on you to put together the perfect interview outfit, but there is no need to panic. Below is a head to toe guide on the dos and don’ts of dressing for a professional interview and subsequently landing that dream internship/job.
HAIR and MAKEUP: Starting from the very top with hair and makeup. The key here is to keep it as clean and as simple as possible. You want your hair in a clean simple style. Some girls find that putting their hair back in a neat up-do keeps them from nervously playing with it and also keeps it out of their face during the interview. With makeup, always remember that less is more. I recommend applying only light eye makeup, sticking to neutral eye shadows. Also, try using neutral or light lip color, nothing too bright.
AVOID: Avoid caking on too much foundation or bronzer. Also, avoid the smokey eye look or sparkly/bright eye shadows; you don’t want to look like you’re coming straight from a Ke$ha concert.
STYLE OF CLOTHING: When dressing for a professional interview, the more conservative the better. You can still put together a cute ensemble without looking like you’re about to hit the bars for the night. A simple blazer, button up top, and either dress pants or skirt is perfect for a business interview. You want to make sure your shirt has an appropriate neck length and that your skirt isn’t too short. If you decide to wear tights or stockings, be sure to make check and see that there are no runs or holes in them. Not only will dressing appropriately help you present yourself professionally, but it will also make you feel more comfortable during the interview. The last thing you want to worry about is whether or not your skirt is riding up or if you have a bra strap showing. You want the interviewer to be listening to what you’re saying and making eye contact, not distracted by your cleavage. Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, and J. Crew have a great selection of cute clothes for the working girl.
AVOID: Try avoiding sleeveless shirts, and never wear denim. I know for some jobs in more creative fields a business suit may be a little over the top, but remember it’s always better to be over-dressed than under.
COLOR: Many people overlook the importance of color in what they wear. Colors are proven to evoke subconscious responses and emotions in people. The color you wear can say a lot about your personality, so it’s important to make sure you pick the right one on your way to an interview.
BLACK: Black is an authoritative color; however, black is also a very solemn and desolate color. Sometimes, wearing too much black give the impression of being arrogant and unapproachable. If you chose to wear black, be sure to include accent colors or brighter accessories.
RED: Red is a very overwhelming color and can exude power or strength; however, often times it projects too much intensity. Although it shows confidence, wearing red can sometimes attract too much attention for a professional interview. Red is best used as an accent color.
BLUE: Blue is known for being the best color to wear to a professional interview, particularly a navy blue. Blue exerts authority and trustworthiness. Because blue is a cooler color, wearing blue gives the interviewer a sense of ease and stability, which will make the interview process that much easier.
GRAY: Gray is another excellent choice for an interview outfit. Gray shows just the right amount of authority and isn’t as severe as black. Gray also denotes sophistication, and it isn’t distracting.
WHITE: White is always a safe go to, but only for a top, not an entire outfit. White is simple and clean, which can demonstrate professionalism and neatness. However, because white is very stark, make sure you add a little color to your outfit.
As a general rule, try to stick to neutral colors and choose only one or two accent colors. Nothing too bright because the less the interview is focusing on your outfit, the more he/she is focusing on what’s important: you.
SHOES: Even if you think your outfit is conservative enough to run the Palin 2020 campaign, don’t slip up by wearing heels you wore out to the club the night before. You want to be wearing a small, business heel with a little height. Also, don’t make your shoes the accent color to your ensemble; stick to neutral colors. Make sure your shoes are in pristine condition, not the shoes you stumble around midtown in. It’s also important that you wear closed-toe shoes, even if you dropped $40 getting a pedicure the day before. Showing your toes can often be frowned on in a professional atmosphere. Nine West and Steve Madden have great collections of appropriate, yet stylish shoes to wear.
AVOID: Avoid super high heels, even if you think the extra few inches will make you look more authoritative or confident. Nothing starts an interview off worse than hitting the floor head first on your way into the office. You’ll definitely make a lasting impression, but that’s not the one you want.
JEWELRY: I know this may be getting redundant, but, again, keep it simple. A pair of studs or small hoop earrings and a small pendent necklace is your best option. Silver, gold, and pearls are helpful in presenting yourself as professional and refined. For jewelry, less is more.
AVOID: Try to avoid loud, statement jewelry. Brightly colored, heavy jewelry can come off as tacky and unprofessional. Also, I recommend removing any facial piercings or noticeable body piercings before your interview. It’s important to remember that your interviewer will most likely be older, and he or she may not appreciate the nose stud as much as our peers do. Although watches are acceptable in the workplace, sometimes it may also be a good idea to leave your watch at home. If you have the habit of nervously looking at your watch, you may give off the impression that you’re uninterested or in a hurry.
- Make sure to keep your nails clipped and neat. If you plan on wearing nail polish, avoid wild colors and be sure to put on a fresh coat. Chipped nail polish comes off as unprofessional and unclean. Also, try neutral/light colors or maybe a French manicure.
- Avoid very strong smelling perfume. If it’s a scent you’re used to, you might not realize if it’s a little too overwhelming. Remember, some people have allergies or different scent preferences so stick to only one or two sprits.
- Unless you’re trying to land a spot on Jersey Shore, stay away from the animal prints. Not only can they come off as trashy, but animal prints evoke a sense of sexuality which isn’t appropriate for an interview.
- Avoid wearing jewelry/clothing that make political statements. You don’t want to lose a job offer because the interviewer doesn’t align politically with you.
- Keep any visible tattoos as covered as possible. Although your tattoo can say a lot about who you are, sometimes people can overlook its significance and dismiss it as unprofessional. So, it’s safer just to tuck them away for the interview.
Believe it or not, it took you longer to read this article than it will for you to make a first impression on an employer. Even though you may think your GPA and past job experience will speak for itself, don’t let your dream job/internship slip away at the hands of a poor dress decision. But don’t think you have to give up all sense of style when entering the workforce. Allowing aspects of your personal style accentuate your formal attire is more than acceptable; just make sure you do it in a tasteful and appropriate manner. Ultimately, it’s all about dressing for the job you want and not letting your physical presentation deviate attention away from you and your qualifications. Make those seven seconds count!