Pajama bottoms, hooded sweatshirts and flip-flops may be appropriate attire for an 8 a.m. psychology lecture, but recent college graduates looking to enter the workforce might have to change their sartorial habits in order to make a good impression on job interviews and in the office.
"Appearance can have a large impact on an employer’s first impression of a candidate," said Karen Dankers, a career counselor at the University of Pennsylvania. "A professional appearance can show good judgment, an understanding of the importance of the interview and a strong interest in the company."
According to a survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 73 percent of employers said that an interviewee’s grooming would have a "strong influence" on their opinion of a candidate. The survey also showed that employers pay attention not only to an interviewee’s attire, but also to details like facial hair, piercings and hair color.
While it’s common sense that appearance plays a large role in making a good impression, students may have a more difficult time figuring out exactly what is appropriate.
"I’ve had students ask everything from ‘What’s the difference between business and business casual?’ to ‘Should I take out my nose piercing?’" said UPenn career counselor Aileen Kyung Kim.
Melissa Payner, CEO of the online clothing retailer Bluefly.com, has some style tips to take some of the guesswork out of dressing for an important interview:
- Better to be over-dressed than over-looked. You should always be a little more dressed up than your interviewer as you are ultimately dressing to impress.
- Ask yourself if you would wear it to see your grandmother. If not, why would you wear it to a job interview? Furthermore, stay away from clothing that is too revealing or suggestive.
- Accessories can make or break your chances of landing a job. Keep it to a minimum and always err on the side of conservative style.
- Be comfortable and confident in your choice of wardrobe; it will show in your body language.
- When in doubt, stick with a classic business suit.
One trick is to do a little research into the company’s office culture before an interview because appropriate dress varies by industry, according to Kim. It may even be a good idea to ask a friend who has already interviewed with the company about the office dress code.
"Some Wall Street firms and banks are very conservative and want women to wear skirts, not pantsuits," Kim said. "There is more creative license in other industries, like at a style magazine, and tech industries tend to be more casual."
There are some things that should be avoided no matter what kind of job a graduate is interviewing for: loud prints, miniskirts, messy or dirty looking hair, unshaven faces, T-shirts, jeans, sneakers, flip-flops and hats are always interview fashion faux pas, according to Payner. Candidates should also steer clear of heavy perfume or aftershave, as interviewers may be sensitive or allergic to some scents.
"At an interview you should always strive to be polished and presentable," Kim said. "Check the details; make sure no buttons are missing."
Payner stresses that candidates don’t have to splurge on clothing before going on an interview or starting a job. Young professionals on a budget can buy just a few pieces from the current season’s trends and mix and match them with what’s already in their closet.
"You don’t need a whole new wardrobe to land a new job," Payner said. "Timeless fashion basics from previous seasons, like button downs, simple black dresses, pants and even ties, never go out of style. Looking good doesn’t mean breaking the bank."
© 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.