Interview Etiquette – Following Suit

With interview season upon us, everyone has questions:
– How should I prepare?
– Is it better to interview on campus?
– What questions should I expect?
– What should I wear?

In this post, we address the last question on this list.  While attire may seem trivial compared to preparing your story and practicing answers to frequently asked questions, it apparently is quite important.  Not only is it important in terms of the impression that you can make, but it is also critical in terms of your comfort level, so that you feel appropriate and relaxed.

 Having lived through an evolution in business dress standards, many business minded folks are understandably confused about what constitutes appropriate attire. The popularity of “casual Fridays” and similar corporate edicts seems to indicate that success in the work place is not contingent on adherence to a formal dress code; in essence, substance matters over style. Is dress for success dead?

Probably not. In “Dressing the Part,” Eileen Boylen writes: “There’s certainly nothing casual about business. People who take business casually generally get fired.” Boylen also notes that “while clothes don’t make the man, clothes can make people focus on the person’s professional attributes rather than their physical shortcomings.”  There is something more to business attire than redirecting a client’s focus;  professional appearance may actually signal other professional qualities.

Smart dressing might also have an effect on the wearer. Just as a reflexive smile may actually improve your mood (see “What’s in A Smile?“), donning that power suit may help get you in the business character by facilitating confidence, enthusiasm, and higher energy levels. In this view, grooming has the dual benefit of conveying positive signals to both the groomer and an outside observer.

The importance of appearance in a professional setting cannot be underestimated. Jude Ndu writes, “experts say that the impact of face to face communication is only about 15% of what is said verbally, 20% of how it is said, and a whooping 65% of what your body language/dress or grooming says.” You’ve heard it before: a picture’s worth a thousand words.

For more on the topic, see Toni Bowers’ article “Can a dress code prohibit body art?” Also see “Return of the Dress Code” (Business Week).  Whether you dress in business attire or business casual, remember to pay attention to the little details as you prepare for this big moment.

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