How many times have you heard “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have?” That’s only true to an extent these days. That saying came about when a collared shirt was a staple in casual (and I mean “grocery store shopping” casual) dress. So there was nowhere to go but up as far as dress went. But now we live in an era where the only time CEOs in certain industries don a suit is when they are meeting with potential investors. And, actually, if you walk into certain interviews dressed in impeccable business professional regalia, you will have lost the job from the moment they see you and the interview will become a mere formality so as not to give the appearance of wasting your time.
So, how do you know when to put on your best suit for an interview and when to dress it down? Glad you asked.
1 – Research the company culture. Check out their website. If they have a Facebook group or a Twitter account, see if they have any photos of inside the office posted. These things will be very telling. If no one is wearing a suit in the photograph, maybe you shouldn’t either. If everyone is, guess what? … Yep. You got it.
2 – Research the position. If you see in the social media photos that only the CEO and COO are wearing suits and everyone else is in chinos and polos, for the interview, find a nice middle ground.
3 – If you’re wearing a tie, know what it says. I save my knit ties for interviews with start-ups, my repp ties for higher ed, and my solids/lightly-patterned ties for corporate. And the color of the tie is HUGE so be certain that you know what feelings the tie you’re wearing evokes in people.
4 – Always dress a step up for the interview. Ok, the goal is not to out-dress anyone but it is to show that you have a range of articles within your wardrobe. If they want to move you up in 6 months, you can do it without being put in a fiscally-irresponsible situation. Now, a step up doesn’t mean you wear a tuxedo if a suit is the norm there. It just means that, if a suit is the norm, you put on your absolute best suit, shirt, and tie combo. If a polo is the norm, put on a button down shirt. And, if a button down is the norm, toss a blazer on top if it. Just enough to show that you respect the position without saying “Hey, you… Yeah, you, there interviewing me. Know that I’m coming for your job after a year.”
5 – In the event that you don’t have the clothes you need, thrift them. That’s pretty self-explanatory. Don’t go breaking the bank to interview for a job that you may not get (I would like to hope you’d get it but you never know). I’ve found some of my best professional clothes in immaculate condition on the racks of thrift stores, consignment shops, and discount retailers. You don’t have to spend big bucks to look like big bucks.
In life, always know where you are and what you are there to do. I don’t go to church wearing a preacher’s robe because, guess what? I’m not going to be the one delivering a sermon that Sunday and, doing such would confuse both the actual preacher and the congregation. People don’t like being confused. So do your best not to confuse the person who is interviewing you. That’s an easy way to eliminate yourself from the second round of interviews.
Make professional development a priority.