Recently, I’ve seen tons of discussions about how to dress for an interview and how to make the best first impression with what you’re wearing. And unfortunately, I am seeing many really bad posts out there that give blanket advice to an entire country and all industries combined; often written by people who call themselves specialists. I should start by saying that you should never follow blanket advice, particularly not when it comes to dressing for interviews.
Let’s review the norm of how to dress for interviews that hopefully everyone has learned: Black, navy or charcoal suit, button-down white shirt, black, close-toed shoes, natural make-up, no perfume, hair styled conservatively, possibly tied back. And generally, if all else fails, these ARE the rules you want to follow. But because we are applying smart PR to our career search, we are smarter than just following blanket advice. We are learning how to customize!
So let’s take a closer look at dress code.
Fit In... not just your clothes.
The way you dress for an interview depends entirely on the industry you work in. If you are applying for a job in banking or pharma – yes, please follow the standards above. These industries are the most formal. If you are applying for a job in a conservative area and you can assume the people working at the company are rather conservative – yes, please follow the rules above more or less.
As a general rule, though, you should follow the industry-standard of how to dress ON the job. If the industry as a whole, or the company you’re applying for, dresses casual or very business-casual (as in “jeans”), step it up a notch. I would avoid going to an interview in jeans at pretty much all costs. But follow the rules of the industry, because….
PR RULE NUMBER ONE: ASSIMILATE!
Study your audience and do what it takes to appeal to that audience. The basis of every PR campaign is lots of research. You learn what your audience members are like, what they like, and what moves them – particularly what moves them to a change in attitude. The attitude change YOU are trying to accomplish is for the interviewer to go to loving you from simply being cognizant of you. So what do you do? YOU FIT IN! We’ve talked about this before: The interview is mainly there to establish if you fit in. You’re already qualified. So show them in every possible way that you know your industry (THEIR industry) and that you know how to fit in, down to dressing right for it. This rule pretty much rules out a black suit and a button-down shirt for A LOT of fields!
PR RULE NUMBER TWO: GO WITH THE BEST AVAILABLE!
As you are using your PR skills to get the job, they are using their PR skills to get the best hire. They probably don’t know that that’s a PR tactic, but they are doing it nonetheless. So how do you know you are getting the best candidate possible? How do you get the best possible guarantee of a candidate to truly be the best out of the whole pot? Simple: You are hiring someone who is currently employed. There’s a very simple mantra explaining that: If you are currently not employed, you can’t be THAT good, right? Someone would have already snatched you up. Well, we know that’s not necessarily true, but our psyche tells us otherwise. And you can like it or not, you will not change this way of thinking.
The Employed Get Hired.
As a matter of fact, I was talking to a hiring manager and she said she won’t even interview anyone who is not currently employed. Why? Because the unemployed are desperate to take ANY job and they will tell you anything to get it. She doesn’t trust them. I didn’t agree with her, but that doesn’t matter. So if you are currently unemployed, the trick is, once again: To cater to your audience.
If you are currently unemployed, do your best to look like you ARE employed. Don’t lie, but use your PR tactics to make yourself look like you are currently working. There are many facets to this concept; for this purpose we will focus on dress code, since that is the subject of this post. So let’s think for a second of how an employed person goes to an interview.
HOW AN EMPLOYED PERSON GOES TO AN INTERVIEW
When you are employed and you are starting to look for a different job, you will most likely not rub it into your current employers face. So your interviews are either after hours right after your work is over (and the other company is hopefully still open) or you take an extended lunch. (Or you lie and make up a reason for why you can’t come in.) The point is: You don’t have all day to go from looking like you do for work to looking like the perfect interviewee in black suit and perfect hair and makeup. You don’t have two hours in the AM to spend in front of the mirror; you have to get to work. So you will look the way you look to go to work. Well – guess what: That’s what people at that other company also look like! Of course that day, you put on slacks instead of jeans and a nicer shirt instead of your good old cotton. But the point is: You look like you are someone who is employed in the industry. Because you actually ARE! You fit in because you are ALREADY IN! Do these people get hired? YES! All the time! Because employers know they fit in.
What do we learn from this novel observation? If you want to make yourself look like you’re currently employed, you literally make yourself LOOK LIKE you’re employed! It’s THAT easy. Dress like you’re going to work. Nicely. You’re not going to be able to SAY that you’re currently employed, but you will LOOK like you are. And that brings you one step closer to fitting in – because you are subconsciously telling them you’re fitting in… without even using one word or your resume. Now, just doing that won’t get you the job… but at least you’re one step closer.
And now you always know how to dress without having a meltdown over your wardrobe. Don’t you love PR!?