Skills - Professional Image

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The First Impression

The first impression you make on an interviewer can have a strong effect on the rest of the interview. He or she will form an initial opinion based on your appearance and behavior before you even speak.

The Main Idea

The interview is an opportunity for an employer to assess you as a potential employee. He or she has already reviewed your resume and cover letter and has an initial sense of your qualifications.  At the interview, the employer is trying to decide if you are a good match for the organization.  Interviewers are usually trying to answer the following questions:

  • Will you fit into the culture of your new workplace?
  • Will you behave in a professional manner?
  • Can you communicate effectively with other people?
  • What kind of employee are they getting if they hire you?

Presenting a professional image is an important part of the interviewer's assessment of a candidate. You can create a positive professional image by dressing and behaving appropriately for the interview and by being properly groomed.

Standard Dress

Men
Wear a suit in a conservative and dark color, like navy or charcoal, a tie which doesn't draw attention to itself, a pressed shirt (preferably white), and socks that match your pants (never wear white socks).

Women
Wear a pant suit or skirt suit in a conservative color, and a conservative blouse. If wearing a skirt suit, make sure the skirt is of a moderate length, and you wear neutral hose without snags or runs. When wearing a dress shirt, women should also button up, taking care to avoid a very revealing neckline.

Shoes
Shoes should be traditional and conservative. They should be in good condition, polished (no scuffmarks) and not run down in the heels. Heels should be a comfortable height and not too high (not more than 1-2 inches). Avoid wearing open-toed shoes or slingbacks.

Industry Dress Codes
Different industries have their own "standard dress code." It is important to research these standards before the interview. For example, financial firms, insurance companies, and banks tend to be extremely conservative. Care should be taken to choose very conservative clothing. Educational institutions may be much more lenient when it comes to interview attire. In fact, a conservative suit may be out of place at a teaching interview. Research the organization and industry to evaluate what is most appropriate for your upcoming interview. Review websites and annual reports which often contain pictures. Speak to alumni and other networking contacts for industry tips.

Grooming

  • Jewelry and makeup should be discreet. Avoid distracting amounts of both. Generally, men and women should remove their facial piercings if they have them.
  • Pay attention to your grooming. Keep your hair neatly styled and your nails at a professional length. If you wear nail polish, choose a subtle shade and be sure your polish is neat.
  • Do not wear perfume, cologne, or fragrance of any kind; your interviewer may be allergic.
  • Go over your outfit with a lint brush before the interview.
  • When you arrive at your interview, stop by the rest room and give your attire one final check in the mirror.

Dress Codes: Decoded

Business or Business Formal 
Men: Suit and tie, dress shoes; Women: Pants or skirt suit, preferably high heels

Business Casual
Men: Khakis or slacks, collared shirts, ties may be optional, casual shoes but not sneakers or sandals; Women: Skirts, dresses or khakis/slacks with blouses or sweaters, high heels or flats but no sneakers or sandals

Casual
This category has the most variation. If your workplace allows for casual attire, it is a good idea to observe the dress of others before choosing how casual your attire will be. Men: Jeans or khakis and unwrinkled shirts, sneakers or sandals; Women: Jeans or khakis, dresses or skirts with unwrinkled tops, flats or sandals.

Materials available in the Center for Career Education

  • Business Etiquette In Brief
  • Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed

Additional Resources: