How to Make a Good Impression

First impressions are made in less than a minute, often before a person even opens his or her mouth to speak. Yes, it is true: We are a visual society and how you look coming into the interview can definitely affect the outcome, no matter how well prepared you are or how well you answer the tough questions.

When you take the initiative and make an effort to look good for the interview, you demonstrate that you are going to be a positive representative of the company. You are someone who pays attention to detail, and you are someone who respects the interview process and the interviewers.

What to Wear

You may have heard to dress for "one step above the position." Some recommend that you always wear a suit to an interview. This is good advice in general; however, you need to use your best judgment. Your geographical location and the local business climate will influence how you dress for the interview. That said, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed. You really cannot make a fool of yourself overdressing unless you show up in formal attire.

In general, the following tips will help you determine what to wear to almost any interview. If in doubt, always err on the conservative side. Once you are employed, you will gain a feel for the company culture; until that time, do not risk appearing too casual, as this can hurt your chances of obtaining the job offer. Those in creative fields may have a little more leeway, but again, a polished, professional look will work well in almost every situation. Those seeking employment in creative industries may need to put a little more thought or creative energy into their interview attire; for these people, it may essential to be "up" on current fashion trends. For most, however, sticking with the basics will work just fine.

Wear dark or neutral colors. Dark is best, but may be inappropriate in some situations or seasons. Khakis and neutral colors are the next best option, but generally, aim for navy and dark gray. Avoid bright or flashy colors, as they are distracting and can give the impression that you are unprofessional. Aim for simplicity as well, wearing clothes with clean, classic lines. A no-frills look means business.

For Men

Have at least one business suit available for interviewing (no one will remember if you wear the same one to a second interview). Pinstripes may be okay if they are subtle. Wear a white or light, neutral-colored, long-sleeve shirt underneath. Choose a tie that compliments the suit and is not too wide or too thin. It should hang down to just above the belt. In some instances, dress pants with a long-sleeve shirt, tie, and sport coat may be acceptable, but again, you must know the company culture to determine if this is appropriate. It should go without saying that your clothes should be clean and wrinkle free.

Shoes should be leather and compliment the suit. Brown shoes should be worn with a brown suit. Black shoes should be worn with gray or navy. Stick with solids; two-tone shoes can make a fashion statement, but you may not make the one you are aiming for.

If you have long hair, you may want to consider cutting it during your job search. You can then determine after you are hired if long hair is appropriate for your business. Even though long hair on men is more acceptable socially these days, it may not be appropriate for some businesses. The age of your interviewer may also be a factor. If you do keep your hair long, wear it in a style that is manageable or pull it back in a neat, clean ponytail. For short hair, choose a cut that is fairly mainstream, or try to style it that way for the interview. While you do not want to look unlike yourself, you do not want to create a first impression that can put you out of the running. Also keep hair color to a minimum.

Facial hair should be neatly trimmed or shaved. A clean-cut look is preferred for business. If you keep a beard, keep it short and combed. Do a check in the mirror before the interview to make sure it is free of crumbs. If necessary, be mindful of nose and ear hair; keep it trimmed if this is an issue.

Jewelry should be kept to a minimum. Men should wear a nice watch to the interview and perhaps a wedding band, but that is about it. Avoid gaudy rings, bracelets, and necklaces. Remove earrings and any facial piercings such as eyebrow, nose, and tongue. These are not appropriate for an interview (and may not be appropriate on the job) and can be distracting if the interviewer is more focused on your hardware than on what you are saying.

While tattoos and body art are gaining mainstream acceptance, avoid drawing attention to these embellishments. If you have tattoos anywhere on your upper body, avoid the white shirt and instead go for a light color that will prevent anyone from being able to see the tattoos should you remove your suit coat for any reason. Also keep your sleeves down if you have tattoos on your forearms.

You will be shaking many hands and using your hands a lot during the interview, so consider getting a manicure. At the very least, keep your nails short and clean. You do not want overly soft hands, but consider pumicing any rough calluses and using lotion.

Avoid using heavily scented deodorant or cologne. Some people are put off by strong scents; others are allergic. The same goes for hair products. It is best to go without cologne and use as few scented items as possible in your grooming.

Take a briefcase (soft or hard) that is in good condition and compliments your attire, or use a small organizer. Take extra copies of your resume and references in case you are asked for them (do not volunteer to provide this information), and a notebook and pens to take notes while you are there.

For Women

Business suits are the best choice for women as well as men, and dark colors should be chosen. Women have a little more flexibility when it comes to adding color, although aiming for neutral colors is still best. Stick to solid colors. Ideally, your top will be long-sleeved or at least three-quarters length. Avoid sleeveless tops because you never know if you may remove your jacket for some reason. If you have tattoos on your arms or back, wear long sleeves and a darker shirt that will not leave your tattoos visible.

Wearing a business suit that is a skirt or pants is up to you. Gauge the local business climate and do your company research. When in doubt, go with a skirt, particularly if you are interviewing with a larger company or if you are interviewing for a more conservative profession. Skirt length should not be too short; around knee level is a good choice. Wear nylons that compliment your suit, but avoid black. Also avoid nylons with any patterning, such as fishnet or seamed, and avoid any "cutesy" nylons with decorations such as flowers. Always take an extra pair with you since they are prone to run at the least opportune times. And if you are the "natural" type, shave your legs if you plan on wearing a skirt to an interview, even though you will be wearing nylons. It should also be a given that your clothes need to be clean and wrinkle free. Avoid fabrics such as linens that tend to wrinkle the moment you put them on.

Wear flats or pumps with a mid to lower heel. Solid colors are best and should complement your outfit. Avoid sandals, open-toed shoes of any kind, and pumps with too high of a heel. None of these options will give the impression you wish to make.

Choose a hairstyle that is clean and neat, and avoid overly fragrant hair products. Also be conscious of your hair color. If you have highlights, try to keep them subtle. Also avoid any vibrant hair colors (such as overly red or purple), any color that does not occur naturally, and coloring that combines too many shades. (Those in fashion, beauty, or other creative professions can get away with a bit more.) Also avoid very large hairstyles or those more appropriate for an evening out.

Makeup should be simple and as natural-looking as possible. Avoid heavy makeup as well. Use a light foundation and powder, minimal eye makeup, and a subtle shade of lip color.

If you wear earrings, choose something small and inconspicuous. Avoid long, dangling earrings. Also remove any other facial piercings such as eyebrow, nose, or tongue. Other jewelry should be kept to a minimum as well. A nice watch and one ring per hand are okay. So also is a light necklace that compliments, but does not distract from, your overall dress.

Make sure your nails are clean and well-manicured. Consider having a professional manicure. Do not go in with excessively long fingernails or nail polish that is chipped. If you do use nail polish, choose a subtle shade during your job search. This is not the time to use fire engine red or lime green. Stick with muted colors that compliment your skin tone. Use lotion to keep your hands smooth. Use unscented deodorant and avoid perfumes. Many people do not like perfume and some are allergic.

Take either a purse or a briefcase that will allow you to carry what you need but that is not big and cumbersome. Bring extra copies of your résumé, a list of references just in case (but only present these if you are asked—do not volunteer to provide this information) and a notepad and pen to take notes. Choose a purse or briefcase that compliments your attire.

A Few Words about Self-Expression

We express ourselves by the clothes we wear, our hairstyles, and how we present ourselves in general. It is perfectly understandable to want to express who you are in an interview as well. But keep in mind that an attitude of "they can take me as I am or leave me" may result in your being "left" too often. For the interview, it is best to err on the conservative side. You can always put your piercings back in or wear the funky shoes if you later determine that the company culture can handle it. Otherwise, these things may be best left for evenings and weekends.

"Business casual" means something different to nearly every person you talk to. Some companies have strict dress codes, while some have virtually none. It is up to you to determine what you are comfortable with and what you can live with on a daily basis as far as company culture and policies are concerned.

At the Interview

Time your arrival so that you arrive a bit before the scheduled start time. This allows you time to deal with any unforeseen delays, and you can use those few minutes beforehand to gather your thoughts and review your notes of accomplishments, strengths, and questions for the interviewer.

Take a few mints with you even if you do not need them. Having them on hand can boost your confidence. Just be sure to finish the mint before the interview so you will not have anything in your mouth when you walk in the door. Gum is absolutely out.

Teena Rose, resume writer and career coach (http://teenarose.com/), says, "Hiring managers need to see beyond your exterior and focus on your skill set along with your possibilities. If the person with the power to hire you can't get past your personal appearance, then you're taking a step back instead of forward."

Make sure you are moving forward.