It may seem superficial, but clothing makes a statement about who you are and where you want to go. Since people tend to judge us (consciously or not) at least in part based on how we look, why not dress the part? Read on if you would like to find out more...
Letter from the Candidate:
I have a question for you, and I hope it doesn't come off as a rant, but I really can't believe the way people come dressed to job interviews. I'm not stodgy, as far as I know. I run a regional office for a national firm that has about 20,000 employees. We wear business casual clothes to work. No one has to wear a tie, but we have to look professional.
Appropriate dress has never been an issue until just the last few years. It's not just Gen Y job applicants who come to their job interviews dressed like they're going to a club or to the beach. I've had people in their 30s and 40s come to an interview in cargo pants with no belt and a pullover shirt that looks like an upscale T-shirt (no collar, no buttons). It is just me or has the whole 'dress-down Friday' thing gone too far?
The female applicants are worse than the men. Some of them wear tiny short skirts and blouses that leave nothing to the imagination. Of course, many of our job applicants dress perfectly and I have to tell you, that gives them a huge advantage. I don't mind mentoring people but I don't want to have to teach them what their parents should have taught them. Can you please write about what to wear to a job interview?
Part of the problem is that when you don't wear a suit to work the way people used to do years ago (or the female equivalent—either a suit or a blazer and slacks or a skirt) it's not clear what you should wear, and what you shouldn't. The lines around appropriate and inappropriate business attire have become so fuzzy that it can be hard to spot them!
A lot of people are confused. For example, the term 'business casual' could mean five different things to five different managers. Here are some pointers for people who aren't sure how to dress for a job interview, or how to dress for work.
There is a theatrical element to work, and especially to a job interview. When you interview for a job you are auditioning for a role, in a way. It is important to dress for the part you want! Even if you know that the employees in a certain company wear jeans and cowboy boots to work, that doesn't mean you should dress casually for the interview. Take it up a big notch. You will never go wrong with a suit (in a more formal business environment) or a blazer and slacks or a shirt.
The only people who might find it disadvantageous to dress in a traditionally business-y way for a job interview are creative folks or people applying at tiny startups.
For some reason, many creative firms and some startups turn up their noses at people who dress traditionally on their interviews. I know this because the people who do their hiring write to me about it. They say "It's not our culture to wear suits and ties, and anyone who wants to work at our little, funky firm should understand that."
I feel bad for any job-seeker who gets rejected for a job because they dressed too nicely for a job interview. Oh well—if some people don't get you, they don't deserve you!
If you know that you're applying at a traditional firm meaning any law firm, accounting firm, government agency, healthcare or financial services firm, dress the part, all the way!
That means a suit for men, and not a hipster suit ripped from the pages of an Italian high-fashion magazine but a traditional one that fits you well. Wear a pale-colored or white shirt and make sure your shoes fit the profile. Women can wear a suit or slacks or a skirt with a blouse and something on top of it, like a sweater or a jacket.
It's fine to look stylish, but you don't want to show any extra skin or look too flashy. Your goal is to look professional, not come to the interview dressed for an evening on the town.
If you're applying for a job at a less-conservative firm, you can brighten your colors if you want and men can consider wearing a jacket and slacks instead of a suit cut from one piece of cloth. That's about as far as I'd want you to go toward business-casual attire on a job interview.
Once you get the job, you can choose your outfits based on what your co-workers are wearing. Never, ever be the most casually-dressed person in your workplace. No one wants to lecture you on appropriate attire, so don't put anyone in that position!
If you interview for a job you want and don't get it, don't lose out on the job because you didn't dress the part at the job interview. You know what they say: First impressions are important. No matter how creative and unique your personality is, your attire should be businesslike. The late Beat author William Burroughs was as wild as they come, and he always dressed in grey flannel suits. Burroughs said (referring to the squares) "I want to see them coming. I don't want them to see me coming."
Let your worldview and your great ideas show your interviewer what an out-of-the-box person you are—not your interview clothes! Dress for the part you want at a job interview, and even once you've got the job. If you've ever spent time onstage you know that a costume helps you step into character. It doesn't work any differently in the business realm!
All the best,
Liz Ryan is CEO/founder of Human Workplace. This article was edited from Forbes.