How to Make a Good Impression

Yes, you need to look good for your interview. Yes, you need to arrive on time. Yes, you need to take a few things with you. Have everything ready the day before so you will not feel rushed and do not forget anything. Some people recommend always having an "interview suit" pressed and ready to go in the event that you get called in for an interview on short notice—some people will call and ask if you can come in the same day. It is not a bad idea to be this prepared when you are seeking employment.

What to Wear

Our first impression of a person is 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 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.

You may have heard to dress for "one step above the position." This is still good advice. Some recommend that you always wear a suit to an interview. This is good advice in general. There will be times when you need to use your best judgment. Your geographical location and the local business climate will also influence how you dress for the interview; however, it is always 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 more 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 is essential to be "up" on current fashion trends. For most of us, however, sticking with the basics will work just fine.

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). Pick one that is dark but not black. Navy, brown, or gray is best. Pinstripes may be okay if they are subtle. Wear a white or light-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 completely 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. Men are taking advantage of highlights and color more often these days, but again, if it is not done conservatively, your hair color may have a negative effect. Keep highlights subtle and remember that this is not the time to opt for purple or blue hair dye, no matter how much you want to express your individuality.

Facial hair should be neatly trimmed or shaved. A clean-cut look is preferred nowadays 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 for you.

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 all 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.

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.

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

Avoid using scented deodorant or heavy 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. You will be bringing additional résumés with you, copies of your references (in case you are asked—do not volunteer to provide this information), and a notebook and pens to take notes while you are there.

When you are prepped and fully dressed, stand in front of a full-length mirror and check yourself out! You look great and are ready to go.

For Women

Business suits are the best choice for women as well as men, and dark colors should be chosen. Women have more flexibility when it comes to adding color, although blouses should not be too bright or consist of busy patterns that can be distracting. Stick to solid colors. Ideally, your blouse will be long-sleeved or at least 3/4 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 low heel. Solid colors are best and should compliment your outfit. Avoid sandals, open-toed shoes of any kind, and pumps with a high heel. None of these options will give the impression you wish to make.

Choose a hairstyle that is fairly subdued. Keep it clean and neat, and avoid overly smelly 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. For those who have piercings beyond one in each earlobe, remove them. 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 is 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, and make sure you do not have any 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 worse, 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. You do not want your interviewer sneezing the whole time because you wanted to smell nice.

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 (the soft ones are nice for women) that compliments your attire.

When you are prepped and fully dressed, stand in front of a full-length mirror and check yourself out! You look great and are ready to go.

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 always 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

Everyone says to show up a bit early for the interview for a reason. 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 along 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 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.

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