A terrific friend from my teenage years wrote me for some advice. His query was such a good one I thought I’d share it and the answer it provoked:
Any suggestions on how I can avoid the “interview suit” look?
Surely, there are many men who also don’t don a suit on a daily basis and wonder the same as my friend.
It can feel foreign to suit up for an interview. Thankfully, interviewing is not an everyday occurrence, unless you are a perpetual interviewee. Eventually you will be hired and the process will conclude. But until then, the key to interviewing, and dressing successfully for them, is to shift your mindset and treat an interview like a special occasion.
Interviews and special occasions have a lot in common. In both cases you want to put your best foot forward: A freshly steamed or pressed and appropriately fitting suit. Nicely styled hair. A shaved face free of nicks, cuts, and blotches. Clean, trimmed, and buffed fingernails. Shined shoes. While it sounds like preparing for a walk down the aisle, your visual interviewing goal is to give the employer a positive and memorable connection with your visual brand.
Wearing a suit to an interview is the respectable, businesslike thing to do, even if wearing a suit isn’t what you are accustomed to doing. Don’t go crazy trying to get creative or overly self-expressive when dressing for your interviews. If your clothing leaves more of an impression than you do, your clothing will have overcompensated, giving employers pause for the overstatement. You are the star of the show, and the wardrobe plays a supporting role.
Selecting the dress shirt to accompany the suit you wear is worthy of special note. Wearing a white shirt is a safe bet, but be sure to wear the appropriate white for you. Here’s a tip to determine how to do this: look for a white shirt to match the brightness of your teeth. If your white shirt overpowers your smile, the white is too bright. By neutralizing the variance between smile and shirt, you increase the focus on your personal communication center. White shirts can range from bright white to bone to ecru. Choose the one best suited to you. Solid, classic colored shirts will support you during an interview.
The tie you wear is worthy of at least the same attention, if not more. Ties are the single greatest piece of communicative clothing men have to wear. Think of them as your personal visual signature. Ties are crucial to the outfit, even though you’ll spend far more on a suit than on a tie any day. Most onlookers won’t remember details about your suit, but they can recall your tie, especially if it’s a bad one! I recommend not wearing too small a motif, nor too large for that matter. Keep the pattern professional looking; avoid wearing anything hand-painted, no matter your industry or profession. One of my favorite tips is to incorporate your eye color in your tie so it brings the interview’s attention to your communication center and keep the focus on you. Again, let the focus be on you and not so much on your clothing.
As an example if you have brown hair and hazel eyes and decide to wear a charcoal suit, I’d recommend wearing the appropriate white, most likely a bone colored shirt. And the tie I’d look for as your image consultant, either in your closet, or at a decent store within your budget, would incorporate some olive to play off your hazel eyes and some gray to play off the charcoal suit. It could also have some bone in it to play off the bone color shirt. And I’d make sure the pattern is moderately sized and classic, either a stripe or geometric pattern based on your personal style preference. For a very clean and modern approach, the tie could be a woven solid selection.
Prepare for your upcoming interviews like they’re special occasions and you’ll put the focus on your dynamic qualities and abilities.
Just yesterday I was interviewed about how men age 40 and up could improve their look for job interviews. It may be about a month before the article is published. But hopefully this helps those of you, like my good old friend, who needs help today. When the article is published, I’ll post a link to it here. Stay tuned.
Designing your image is the secret science to your success.
Joseph Rosenfeld helps professional men and corporate workgroups create effective visual brands. Visit JosephRosenfeld.com for details.