People are visual creatures. More often than not, we judge others based on their appearance. According to Professor Frank Bernieri, University of Toledo, within 30 seconds of coming in contact with you, people have already made a determination about you. Your appearance and your attire (the way you are dressed or not dressed) can have a significant impact on how successful you are in obtaining a position. It is essential to always dress and properly groom yourself for success.
Although a cake may taste delicious, many may never know if it is presented to them on a trash can. Why? This is because first impressions set the stage for the remaining interaction! Similarly, interviewers may never experience all of the great qualities that you may have to offer them, if you do not present your best first impression. It is important that you are well dressed and groomed properly.
It does not matter if you are applying for a stock person or for the Chief Executive Officer position, you should always present your best. Even if you are aware that the organization may have a casual dress code, unless you are specifically told otherwise by Human Resources, dress more formally for the interview. In general, an interview is considered a professional meeting; requiring more formal attire than daily work. As a black man, the odds are already stacked against you. You not only have to look as good as your white counterpart, but you must present yourself better than your counterpart.
A rule of thumb is to keep it simple for the interview. Unless you are applying for a position in the fashion industry, during the interview is not the time to display your “fashion sense.” This is not the time to wear your brightest color suit with matching socks and shoes. You should be remembered after the interview, but it should not be because of your attire only.
I suggest that if you have a dark suit (i.e., black, navy blue or gray) you should wear it. If you do not have an appropriate suit, dark slacks or khakis and a blazer, a collared shirt and a tie should be worn. You cannot go wrong being “over-dressed,” but you can definitely go wrong being “under-dressed” for an interview. On another note, even after you have landed the job, you should never dress for the position that you have, but you should dress for the position that you desire.
If it’s within your budget invest in one quality suit for interviewing that will last at least two to three years. One good suit is sufficient for a job search. You can modify the look of the suit by having multiple shirts and ties.
If you cannot afford to buy a suit, there are several options that may be available to you. First, you should ask family members and friends who are similar in size to you for gently used and/or unwanted suits. They may be willing to donate these items to you for the good cause. If they are unable to give you the suit, they may at least be willing to loan you the suit for your interview.
A second option is to visit a community and social service organizations, including churches, within your local community. There are numerous organizations around the country that provide men with suits, at no cost, for interviews. This may require some time to locate, but the resources are available.
Thirdly, do not be afraid to visit vintage, resell or consignment stores to purchase a nice suit at a reasonable price. Not only can you find decent (and sometimes designer) suits, but you can also buy coordinating shirts, ties, shoes and belts to accent your suit.
Shirts and Ties
You should always wear a collared dress shirt. Regardless of the season, a long-sleeve shirt is appropriate at all times. As you start purchasing interview attire, it is wise to start with a white dress shirt; as it is the most versatile. If you are able to afford a second shirt, I suggest a light blue shirt, which goes well with navy and gray suits.
When choosing a tie, select a silk tie that compliments your suit and shirt. Certain colors like red and yellow definitely make powerful statements. You should stay away from trendy ties during the interview process. Again, a general rule of thumb is to keep it simple, but make it bold!
Shoes and Socks
Purchase a black leather or cordovan pair of shoes (with a matching belt) for interviewing. Preferably, buy a classic lace-up or slip-on dress shoe. Invest in a quality (not necessarily expensive) pair; that will last you for several years, if you take good care of them. You should never wear extremely trendy, casual or athletic shoes to an interview. If you cannot afford to have your shoes professionally shined, invest in some wax polish and give them a shine before each interview.
Your socks should also be the same color as your shoes. Again, trends may dictate something different, but for the interview process, conservative is the best policy. Definitely do not wear athletic socks to an interview. Ensure that your socks are long enough that your skin is not exposed when you are sitting. Many resell shops (i.e., Goodwill or Salvation Army) also sell brand new socks at very affordable prices.
I recommend limiting the accessories that you wear during the interview. If at all possible, only wear a classic metal watch and your wedding ring, if applicable. Do not wear earrings (or any other piercings), bracelets, pocket squares, lapel flowers or pins to the interview. There is an appropriate time for these items, but the interview is not the time. They may cause the interviewer to be more focused on what you have on than on what you have to say.
Being well-groomed is just as important as being well-dressed. Pay attention to the details. Your clothes should be clean, they should fit well and they should be neatly pressed. Invest the time and money to get your hair cut before the interview. If you have facial hair, be sure that it is also neatly shaped. Ensure that your finger-nails are cut and clean. If you have tattoos, it would be wise to ensure that they are concealed.
I know this may seem common sense to some, but for other’s it is definitely necessary to state. Take a personal interest in your hygiene. Ensure that you bathe and deodorize before your interview! Many potentially great candidates have caused interviews to be cut short because they did not take care of their hygiene before the interview.
Please wear cologne sparingly, if you MUST wear it during the interview (although I highly recommend that you do not). You do not want to distract the interviewer from what you have to say. Many people are sensitive to scents. Wearing too much could cause an allergic reaction by the interviewer, which would definitely cause him or her to take their attention away from you.
Lastly, before you enter the building, chew gum or suck a breath mint. However, discard it before your interview starts. This can help ensure that the “atmosphere” is appropriate for your dialogue with the interviewer. Again, many interviews have ended suddenly because something was not right in the air.
To be successful in your job search, you must be appropriately dressed and properly groomed. Your appearance and attire communicate non-verbal cues about your confidence, your ability to succeed within the job and your attention to detail. Your appearance alone will not obtain the job for you, but it could be essential in ensuring that the interviewer experiences all of the great qualities that you may have to offer them.
Caryl R. West, MBA is a Human Resource Professional and Financial Executive with demonstrated abilities in strategic and project management. He is familiar with all aspects of human resource management, including policy development, recruitment, employee relations, performance management, compensation, benefits administration, payroll, organizational development, and training. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Indiana University and an MBA with a concentration in Human Resource Management from Indiana Wesleyan University.