A Polished Appearance Pays Off for Candidates

If you’re actively job hunting, paying close attention to your image is as crucial as the scrutiny you give to other facets of your campaign.

For instance, you have probably agonized over multiple versions of your resume, attended job-search seminars, identified your key skills and rehearsed what you plan to say in interviews about your accomplishments. Yet when interview dates come around, you may feel a clean shirt or blouse and quick haircut are all you need to spruce up your looks.

Candidates who believe the only criteria for job-search success should be their credentials may be surprised to know that when all other qualifications are equal, the best-dressed candidate usually gets the job.

Assume two equally qualified applicants are finalists for the same position. They both hold degrees from top universities and have the same level of work experience. They’re also close in age and of the same gender. Everything is equal except that one presents a polished professional appearance and “looks the part” while the other’s appearance leaves something to be desired. Who was hired? The one who looked the part.

This scenario occurs daily. As a wardrobe and image consultant to midsize and large companies, I hear from many frustrated employers about how staffers and applicants sabotage their careers by dressing poorly or inappropriately for work and job interviews. However, few will admit that appearance influences their hiring or promotion decisions for fear of possible discrimination repercussions.

The ‘Casual Casualty’

The widespread misconception since the emergence of “business casual” dress codes is that dressing well isn’t a make-or-break issue for career success. But with downsizing and cost-cutting causing companies to eliminate management layers, employers want to hire professionals who can multitask — say, an information technology pro who can meet with clients and make presentations as well as write program code. In other words, managers believe that dressing appropriately not only helps individuals but the organization as well.

Moreover, during tough job markets such as the one we’re in now, employers have the luxury of “cherry picking” job candidates. Those who are not only qualified but also polished get the nod from employers more often than qualified but unpolished applicants.

This can be a plus for many over-50 job seekers. Sometimes, their problem isn’t being old, but in looking frumpy, tired and outdated. For them, dressing well can be a great equalizer.

Communicating Wordlessly

In other words, dressing for interviews is a strategy and a process. When assembling your interview wardrobe, these tips may be helpful:


    1. Realize that before you speak, your clothing already has. First impressions occur within 30 seconds, often subliminally. A reviewer makes at least 10 value judgments about you during this time, including forming opinions concerning your level of education, success, position and socio-economic status and of your work habits, trustworthiness, credibility, likeability and even your moral character. Be sure you’re communicating the right message.


    1. Dress up. Prior to interviewing, research the target company’s dress code and dress to its highest level. If you’re seeking an upper-level management job, wear sophisticated high-quality clothing. Suits command the most respect. However, when specifically asked to dress casually, men should wear sport coats and women should wear pantsuits.

      Men seeking corporate positions should wear navy or gray suits with a white or light blue dress shirt and a high-quality geometric patterned tie. If you aren’t sure what color to wear, choose navy because it conveys trustworthiness.


    1. Know what complements you. To look your best, understand your body shape, personal coloration and what you hope to communicate. Choosing accessorizing colors that harmonize with your skin tone and hair and eye colors will make you seem refreshed, alive and youthful. Colors that don’t suit you will make you appear shorter, heavier, dull and tired. By understanding your body shape and choosing clothing to hide your figure flaws and enhance your positive attributes, you’ll appear taller, slimmer, more proportionate and attractive.


  1. Pay attention to detail. Make sure your outfit fits well and is contemporary. It should be spotless and well pressed. Women should finish their outfits with scarves or tasteful jewelry. Have at least three more outfits to wear for callbacks.

When you look the part and feel good about your appearance, something magical can happen: You’ll want to perform well professionally. You’ll have more confidence and feel less shy and self-conscious during interviews. This can release you to speak more confidently and command interviewers’ attention. Right or wrong, the tone of your voice and how you look when delivering the message often holds more weight than what you say.

If you can’t see yourself objectively and never seem to know how to create a polished appearance, consider meeting with a wardrobe or image professional. These individuals know industry dress codes and the clothing resources for various budgets. Then, after you get the job, keep dressing higher than your level to encourage your employer to see you that way.

By Janine Giorgenti

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career, resume