Job search is marketing…and marketing includes packaging and presentation. You want your appearance and presentation to exude a polished, confident professional.
When you’re interviewing, obviously, you want the interviewer to concentrate on your expertise, qualifications, and value you can bring to the organization. However if your appearance is flamboyant, outdated, or disheveled, the interview will find it distracting, and you may be remembered for the wrong reasons.
Following are 20 faux pas that WILL derail your ability to make a professional first impression and undermine your credibility.
• Faux Pas: Wearing a suit with bold colors, large prints, stripes, plaids or funky patterns
• Appropriate: wear a suit in a dark, solid color such as navy or charcoal/gray
• Faux Pas: Wearing a suit jacket with pants that don’t match
• Appropriate: Wear a 2-piece matched suit
• Faux Pas: Wearing a suit made of an exotic fabric such as suede, leather or velvet
• Appropriate: Wear a suit made of wool, a wool blend, or a very high quality blend with natural fiber
• Faux Pas: Wearing a suit that is too large, too small, or too long
• Appropriate: Invest in a properly fitting suit. Suit jackets should fit so that they can be easily buttoned without any significant pull marks across the fabric. The sleeve should be long enough so that about a ¼ inch of your dress shirt can be seen beyond the cuffs when your arms are relaxed by your side
• Faux Pas: Wearing rolled up sleeves
• Appropriate: While rolled up sleeves may be in style, err on the side on conservatism and do not roll up your sleeves
• Faux Pas: Wearing a suit with the tacking stitches still in place
• Appropriate: Suits typically have tacking stitches to hold vents (on the jacket back and sleeves) in place before the garment is purchased. Cut them off if your retailer/tailor doesn’t.
• Faux Pas: Wearing no socks, short socks, or socks with large prints, patterns or bright colors.
• Appropriate: Wear socks mid-calf length so no skin is visible when you sit down. Wear dark colored socks that match your suit.
• Faux Pas: Wearing loafers, dress boots, athletic shoes, boat shoes, crocs, or open-toed shoes such as sandals or flip flops
• Appropriate: Wear black leather shoes with laces—shinier materials usually indicate a dressier shoe
• Faux Pas: Wearing shoes or boots with a 2-inch or higher heel
• Appropriate: Wear oxford leather shoes with a traditional heel height
• Faux Pas: Wearing a short-sleeve shirt, collarless shirt, ill-fitting shirt, or wrinkled shirt
• Appropriate: Wear a well-pressed, long-sleeve, button-down-the-front shirt with a crisp collar. Wear a shirt that fits your neck size perfectly (the top button must be buttoned with no straining — the neckline should not be so large that your tie drags your shirt down)
• Faux Pas: Wearing bold, flashy colors or prints
• Appropriate: Choose a solid colored shirt or one with conservative stripes
• Faux Pas: Wearing an outdated tie (too wide, too narrow), a flashy tie, a tie with religious, political or sports symbols, or cartoon characters
• Appropriate: Wear a 100% silk tie with neat repeating patterns (foulards) or a traditionally striped tie. Err on the side of conservatism
• Faux Pas: A tie knot that doesn’t fit the neck opening
• Appropriate: Choose a four-in-hand knot or a Windsor knot (no bow ties)
• Faux Pas: Wearing excessive amounts of jewelry or body jewelry (ear, eyebrow, nose rings)
• Appropriate: Wear a conservative watch and limit jewelry to one ring per hand
• Faux Pas: Wearing flashy cufflinks
• Appropriate: Wear a barrel cuff shirt (a shirt with one button at the bottom of the sleeve). Do not wear cuff links
• Faux Pas: Wearing a large belt with a buckle signifying which team, sport or race car driver you favor
• Appropriate: Choose a leather suit belt that matches your shoe color
Suspenders / Braces:
• Faux Pas: Wearing suspenders
• Appropriate: You may wear braces, but not suspenders. (Braces button into your suit slacks, while suspenders clip onto the outside.)
Briefcase / Portfolio / Pen:
• Faux Pas: Carrying an old worn briefcase or portfolio that you’ve carried for several years or ever since you graduated from college
Using the pen provided by the hotel or the last trade show you attended
• Appropriate: Carry a leather briefcase and portfolio and a quality pen with no advertising printed on the housing
• Faux Pas: Talking or texting on your way into the interview area — or worse yet, taking a call during the interview
• Appropriate: Turn off your cell phone as soon as you step out of your vehicle or transportation
Hats / Sunglasses:
• Faux Pas: Wearing a hat or sunglasses
• Appropriate: Do not wear a hat and remove sunglasses immediately upon entering the building. (Do not push your sunglasses up on top of your head—remove them completely)
While many of the faux pas and appropriate recommendations above apply to women as well, there are a couple of additional points for women:
• Suit: Wear a pant suit or a knee-length, skirt suit
• Hosiery: When wearing a skirt suit, wear neutral or flesh-tone stockings (despite the no-hosiery trend)
• Shoes: Wear a low-heel shoe versus flats or 4+-inch high heels
• Necklines: Wear a blouse with a collar that buttons up rather high. Too low a neckline can give the interviewer the wrong impression
• Hemlines: Wear a suit that reaches the middle of the knee or 1-2 inches below the knee. Too short a hemline can give the interviewer the wrong impression
These recommendations are for the traditional, conservative industries. If you’re pursuing a position in the creative or artistic field, you may need to adjust these recommendations to the field. However, always err on the conservative side of the industry unless you feel you simply could not be happy working in a somewhat conservative environment.
Remember, you want to be remembered for your ability to perform — not for what you were wearing.