Skills - Professional Image

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The First Impression

The first impression you make can have a strong effect on the rest of the interview. The interviewer 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. The interviewer 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. In addition to determining if you have the right skills for the position; 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 appearing well-groomed.

Industry Dress Codes

Different industries have their own "standard dress code." It is important to research these standards before the interview. Organizations vary widely in terms of the formality of the company culture, and different roles within the same company may have different standards of dress. Some technology, engineering, start-up and creative companies are less formal when it comes to interview attire, depending on the role for which you are interviewing. While financial firms, insurance companies, and banks tend to be extremely conservative; a conservative suit may be out of place for a tech role at a start-up company.

Research the organization and industry to evaluate what is most appropriate for your upcoming interview. Read through interview confirmation emails carefully, they may contain important details about the interview or even suggested attire. Review websites and annual reports which often contain pictures. If you know someone at the company ask about the dress code. Speak to alumni and other networking contacts for industry tips. If you are interviewing for a finance job or with other conservative companies formal professional business attire is required and expected. Upgrade your attire if you are interviewing for a higher level position. Remember that you may borrow a professional suit from CCE's Clothing Closet.

Shoes

Shoes should be conservative, polished (no scuff marks). They should be in good condition, and not run down in the heels. If you are wearing heels they should be a comfortable height and cover your toes.

Business Formal/Standard Business

Choose a suit in a conservative, dark color: navy, charcoal or black. Wear a conservative modest (not too tight or revealing) blouse or a pressed, light colored dress shirt (preferably white or blue, coordinated with the suit color), and a tie which doesn't draw attention to itself. Socks should match your pants (never wear white socks). If wearing a skirt suit be sure the skirt of a moderate length and shoes are closed-toe. Many companies have relaxed their view on pantyhose; however the interview is not the time to take chances, wear neutral hose to match your skin tone, without patterns, snags or runs.

Business Casual

For technology and other casual industries, a suit is not always necessary. You may choose to tailor down your look, but be careful not to go too casual. Wear a collared shirt, polished sweater or blouse with khakis or dress slacks, a tailored skirt or a dress. Ties may be optional, but shoes should still look professional, no sneakers or sandals. In general, it's always better to arrive slightly overdressed than under-dressed. Your interview outfit should be more formal than what you would wear when working in the office.

Casual or Creative

This category has the most variation. Reflect the company and your own style. Study the company website, LinkedIn and industry publications for clues to the company culture. It is better to err on the side of appearing too formal rather than too informal for an interview. Dress for the position and level of responsibility to which you aspire. Aim for a stylish, polished and professional look. For very artistic roles there is more leeway for idiosyncratic style in dress and grooming. Client facing business roles in creative industries may still require a suit.

Grooming

  • Jewelry and makeup should be discreet. Avoid distracting amounts of both. Remove facial piercings and try to cover tattoos.
  • 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.
  • Do wear deodorant, interviews may occur in close quarters and you are likely to sweat!
  • Iron shirts and blouses; 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.

Materials available in the Center for Career Education

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

Additional Resources: