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The power of clothing choices for job interviews

When getting ready for a job interview, most people think about how they’ll communicate their strengths and abilities to the would-be employer. But not everyone puts as much thought into what to wear.

Research shows that it only takes 7 seconds to make a good first impression, according to Karen Cunningham of Image Forward, a Springfield-based consulting company. “How you present yourself is very important,” Cunningham said. “Eighty-five percent of communication is non-verbal, and the first thing an employer will notice even before you have a chance to say a word, is your image. Your image speaks for you; be sure you know what it is saying. Taking pride in your appearance reflects your self-image, self-esteem and confidence.”

Cunningham said that the pride you take in your appearance can convey the pride that you take in your work. “It is very important that your interview attire is professional,” she said. “Even if you’re interviewing for a casual workplace, it is very important to not dress down too much for the interview. In my opinion, your attire in all circumstances should match or preferably exceed the attire expected from the company’s dress code or environment. It is better to be overdressed then underdressed.”

Different industries have different dress codes or workplace appearance expectations. “I recommend you research the company you are interviewing with,” Cunningham said, adding that visiting the company’s website or contacting hiring manager or human resources department can be good ways to figure out the dress code. “It always a good idea to ask,” she said.

Cunningham said the colors you wear matter. “Knowing what colors your look best in definitely helps you dress to look your best,” she said. “Dressing professional doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with color and a small splash of your style personality. You want to be sure your wardrobe is filled with the shades that make you glow and reflect your best. It’s also important to understand your body shape and frame size and dress to balance your figure. Stay away from clothes that are too tight. Classic style trumps trendy at most interviews unless you are interviewing for a trendy style company, etc. Again, know the company environment.”

For interviews, Cunningham recommends navy blue, gray, black, white, cream and red – as an accent only. Studies show dark blue represents confidence, credibility and reliability; gray represents neutral and practical; black represents classic, conservative and authority; white represents pristine and direct; red represents high energy, outgoing and leadership; turquoise represents open communication and friendliness.

For women, Cunningham suggests wear jackets/cardigans (less formal, a collar-less jacket); a blouse in your color code, white or small print; a skirt (not too short), slacks or a dress with a cardigan or jacket. “A little black dress is appropriate if it’s simple, tasteful, structured, not too tight and paired with a cardigan or jacket,” she said. “It’s important to avoid having too low of a neckline and too short of a hemline -- no shorter than two to three inches above the knee. In my programs I teach no bra straps, no bust exposure, no bellies, no bottoms and no bubbling.”

For men, Cunningham suggests a suit, if appropriate, with a white shirt and tie. For more business casual, she advises a collared button-down shirt with slacks, a sweater or jacket, sharp business casual jacket with no tie and slacks in black, gray or neutral tones.

What about denim? “I would not recommend jeans for an interview,” Cunningham said. “If the company dress code warrants jeans, a dark wash is a must. Slim cut, not skinny or large boot cut. That gives the appearance of dress slacks.”

Cunningham said common mistakes at interviews include wearing social wear and thinking it is workplace-appropriate wear. “Your wardrobe should consist of both,” she said. “Do not reach for your social, club or exercise clothes to wear to an interview, even if they say it is casual.”

Other pitfalls Cunningham said women should avoid are too-short skirts, too-low necklines, stiletto heels or sandal-style shoes. “Chose conservative heels or a ballet flat,” she said. 

For men, tennis shoes are to be avoided, Cunningham said. “Wear a clean, well-kept dress shoe,” she said. “Invest in a few interview-appropriate outfits. You will be so glad you did.”

Also at initial interviews, Cunningham recommends being conscious of tattoos and piercings. “Some companies do not want them showing,” she said.

For subsequent interviews, Cunningham says to be mindful of the workplace environment, notice what people are wearing and look at what the hiring manager is wearing. “Match or exceed the environment.” She said. “You can let your style personality shine a little more at subsequent interviews, but modestly. Save that as you understand your dress code expectations.”

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