You may have landed the interview for your dream job, but are you dressed to make the best first impression on your potential dream employer? Here, we’ll show you how to dress and prepare for an interview so you’ll land the job too!
That coveted opportunity is finally knocking on your door. You’ve taken one step through the door by submitting your resume, polishing up on your networking skills, and building rapport with the right people. Now comes the second, much larger step: the interview process. Yes, you’ve watched The Internship, and were convinced momentarily that goofing around like Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson is the prototypical interview model for the future. But it’s not. You’ve been relegated back down to Earth, where demonstrating trust, affability, competence, professionalism, and a keen sense of interest are of paramount importance to landing your dream gig.
As AJ, Jordan, and the team at The Art of Charm have undoubtedly and relentlessly hammered home time and time again, building that first impression is of critical importance in any interaction — especially one as noteworthy as the interview process. Furthermore, as we will highlight below, building upon that first impression by creating friendly rapport and demonstrating competence will be key to securing that dream job.
Brian Tracy, renowned personal and professional coach, has noted that making a great first impression is imperative to becoming an influential leader. “The ancient Greeks spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the effect of one personality on another,” he says. “They broke down the process of communication into three parts, which they called ethos, pathos, and logos.” At The Dark Knot, we like to think of these three modes of communication as indispensable to the interview process.
- Ethos (dressing well and signalling authenticity and trust) — This revolves around the person you are, and just as important, the person you are perceived to be. For whatever functional role you are applying, perception will be a critical component in assessing your character and conduct. That immediate 30 seconds where your interviewer is consciously (or subconsciously) making a snap judgement will largely be influenced by your posture and how you dress. These two things, combined, will help him or her ascertain your level of credibility and authority.
- Logos (demonstrating competence in the interview process) — The appeal to logos is achieved through the use of facts, statistics, and demonstrating logical and reasoning ability. In the interview process, this will be achieved by walking through your answers to questions in a calm, sound, and methodical manner.
- Pathos (demonstrating affability) — This involves appealing to your audience in a way that invokes an emotional and visceral response. In an interview setting, this would equate to demonstrating your passion for the job in an authentic and engaging manner.
With the above framework established, let’s look into the interview preparation process in detail.
Dressing Well and Making a First Impression (Ethos — Signalling Authenticity and Trust)
Men’s Formal Attire
Suits — While black can be worn to black tie events or more somber functions, you’re best off reserving your navy or charcoal grey suits for the interview process. Darker colors such as navy or charcoal grey will help assert a level of authority and trust, both of which are essential to building credibility. Opt for a single breasted, two (if buying a new suit) or three (if using an older suit) button suit, with the middle button fastened when you walk into the interview room. If possible, stick to a solid-colored suit, as pinstripes or plaid suits will make your pattern matching that much more difficult on interview day. After all, you want to eliminate as many stressors as possible so you can focus on the job at hand for the day — the interview! There is a reason Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs both adopted their go-to items of clothing — when outside situations increasingly demand your focus and attention to detail, taking care of the basics matters. In this case, while a black t-shirt or hoodie won’t suffice for your interview, keeping your attire elegant but simplistic will go a long way to assuaging your fears for the big day and helping you concentrate on the task at hand!
Dress Shirt — Opt for a solid light blue or white dress shirt. This will pair perfectly with your navy blue or charcoal grey suit, and will provide the perfect canvas upon which to wear a necktie that will garner enough visual interest without being overtly detracting.
Overall Dress — As mentioned above, you are playing it safest by opting for one pattern and two solids. Hence, a solid suit and shirt will provide you with the perfect backdrop upon which to place a tie pattern that will garner interest.
Necktie — When dressing for an interview, in order to detract from being too loud, you generally want to go with conservative ties that are solid, striped, or geometric (with repeating patterns). Please note that the tip of your tie should reach your belt buckle. While a four-in-hand knot can generally suffice in professional settings, going through the process of learning how to tie a half-Windsor or full-Windsor knot can really help you stand out on interview day and provide you with an extra level of professionalism!
Socks — It is imperative that your socks do not show any leg when seated! Opt for business or dress socks that match the color of your shoes!
Shoes — As for your shoes, they demonstrate a level of attention to detail that will quickly confirm to the interviewer how put together you are. With a navy or charcoal grey suit, you can opt for cap toe brown or black oxfords. Remember to opt for rounded shoes if you can, as they provide a more professional look than their square-toed counterparts.
Men’s Business Casual Attire (e.g., Silicon Valley — If in Doubt, Ask HR Ahead of Time)
While the term business casual often stirs up a world full of confusion, it is important to note the order of words — ‘Business Casual’ — hence this implies business first, then casual. Even if you are applying to a role with a business casual dress code, and HR has specifically stressed that the interview will be conducted in business casual attire, it is in your best interest to show up on the conservative end of the spectrum and appear well-dressed. Conservative and safe will always put you in better stead than playing it wild for interview day.
For men, chinos, khakis, or cotton pants will work, along with a tucked-in, well-pressed shirt. Sweaters can be worn, weather permitting. A belt that matches the color of your shoes (it doesn’t have to match exactly, but should be of the same color e.g., tan belt with tan shoes) will take you far in terms of creating a professional image.
Wearing a blazer can always help transition that business casual attire to the more formal end of the spectrum, which will leave you looking extremely sharp!
Neckties can be considered optional when interviewing within a business casual context, and should be left to your discretion.
Women’s Formal Attire
For women, just as with men, standing out from your competition should be a professional priority. Your choice of interview attire will be viewed as an indicator of how seriously you are taking your job application process. The below guidelines should help in getting you stylistically tuned for interview day.
Suit — A dark, two-piece grey, navy, or black suit should be your preferred options when interviewing within a conservative setting. Try to avoid spaghetti straps and well-worn tees under your jacket. Please note that women can pull off a black suit significantly better than men given varying options with lighter blouse colors, which helps to create the perfect balance of contrast.
Pantsuit vs. Skirt Suit — Whether you opt for a pantsuit or a skirt suit, please ensure that you are on board with the interview dress code by contacting human resources before interview day. Either option should leave you looking professionally on par for the big day.
Shirt — A white or light-colored tailored shirt will pair perfectly with either of your suit options, leaving you well-primed for the interview. You can opt to dress up your look with a necklace or other piece of conservative jewelry.
Shoes — A mid-heel, closed-toe pump pair will suffice. Remember, your goal is to look professional and somewhat understated, so it doesn’t look like you are trying to be overbearing with respect to both your competition and your prospective employers. The exception to wearing a safe pair of shoes would be if you were applying for a creative role or for a position in the fashion industry, in which case you could choose to wear something with a bit more flair to demonstrate your sense of creativity and style.
Women’s Business Casual Attire
Just as with men, women should treat business casual attire with a hint of caution. Khaki, twill, or cotton pants will suffice, along with a shirt or blouse, and sweater or cardigan (weather permitting). Solid colors should be chosen in favor of brighter, stronger patterns.
Building Further Ethos During the Interview Process
So now that attire under various scenarios has been considered, and we have ensured that you have lived up to the ethos building that your prospective employer had hoped for with respect to your sense of dress, what else should we pay attention to so as to create that impeccable first impression and a stronger sense of ethos (trust and credibility)?
The Night Before the Interview — Yes, preparation starts from the day before. As we often say, celebrities are people who are rewarded publicly for diligent habits they have created privately. Same goes for your success. Preparation with respect to your attire the night before your interview will do you wonders. The night before, have your suit, shirt, and pants ironed and laid out, along with your matching socks and polished shoes. Have a few copies of your resume inside a folder in the event that the internal recruiter or corporate executive who is interviewing you does not have one on file.
By taking care of these details ahead of time, you will enter the interview room less flustered and in a much more affable and approachable manner, which will immediately build up your ethos, sense of reliability, and likeability!
The Day of the Interview — Set your alarm so you wake up earlier than you need to, giving you plenty of buffer for any unforeseen incidents or circumstances. If you are a gent, get a clean shave in and ensure that you are well-groomed. Try and get to the interview early! It is always best when entering an interview room with poise rather than having rushed there. It’s amazingly simple, yet I am flummoxed as to how often we forget these essential things when acting under pressure.
During the interview, with respect to building ethos, pay attention to the following.
- Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake, maintain eye contact, and introduce yourself with a smile. A good smile will help project that you are relaxed, confident, and affable, and will help set the tone for a great interview.
- Maintain good posture. Nothing helps build a sense of authority and credibility than meeting your prospective employer while standing straight.
Demonstrating Competence and Reasoning Ability During the Interview Process (Logos)
As mentioned toward the beginning of this post, a critical component prospective employers will assess during the interview process is our competence (ability on the job) and reasoning ability, which will exhibit our ability to solve a problem based on context. How you respond to questions and react during the interview process will showcase both your ability to understand the job on a technical level and whether you react to unforeseen situations and context in a calm and calculated manner. The following guidelines should help.
- Answer questions as they are asked. Don’t interrupt the interviewer when he or she is speaking, and when you respond, speak at a moderate pace.
- If you are unsure as to the answer to a question, state that you do not know it. Nothing turns off a prospective employer more than a false sense of bravado.
- When working through a technical question, there is nothing wrong with telling an employer that you need a minute or two to think about it. Keep your head down if need be, and calmly try to work through the solution in your head. And often, even if you don’t have the full solution to a technical question, you can say you have taken the necessary starting steps. More often than not, the interviewer will encourage you by assessing whether you are taking the right approach, and what further issues could be addressed in trying to formulate a solution. Remember, at the end of the day, the interviewer is most concerned with your thought process and determination than whether you got the question right in the first place.
- As the interview concludes, you will typically be prompted by the interviewer regarding any questions you may have about the position you are applying for. Avoid asking questions that the employer has alluded to during the interview process. If you are completely stuck, a good question to ask is: “After how long in this role will I be provided with the opportunity to take on more responsibility.” Remember, that when asking questions, the key is to avoid coming across as arrogant. Instead, your questions should demonstrate your keen interest in the position, your willingness to learn, to work with colleagues and your desire to grow within the company.
Demonstrating Affability (Pathos)
While demonstrating your competence and sense of logic (logos) will be limited to how you answer questions and the type of questions that you ask, demonstrating affability (pathos) will be inherent to all of your interactions throughout the interview process, including after the fact. Maintaining eye contact, exuding a relaxed yet confident demeanor, maintaining respect and asking questions in a polite manner will all help towards demonstrating affability.
After the interview, sending a thank you or follow up letter to the interviewer will allow you to restate your interest in the position, and attest to your strengths and desire to work within the firm with a sense of passion.
The Dark Knot carries handmade men’s accessories including silk ties, pocket squares, and lapel flowers. Each of its items come presented in an elegant black gift box along with a card with recommendations for matching attire. The Dark Knot is happy to offer all Art of Charm readers a 25% discount off any order size; just use the discount code AOC25 at checkout!
This guest post was written for The Art of Charm by Rishi Chullani. Rishi decided to take on entrepreneurial flair in the fashion world after 10 years in the corporate realm. Originally from Hong Kong and having lived in the US for 10 years, his broad travel and life experiences have provided him with depth in perspective that has contributed to his men’s accessories and style platform The Dark Knot. Rishi’s goal is to help gentlemen dress better, and he believes his vision is wholeheartedly reflected through his e-commerce site and blog.