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Succeeding at Job Interviews: Look the Part to Get the Part

Congratulations! You got the call. Here’s how you can make the most of your job interview.

To begin with, remember first impressions matter—a lot. Your appearance can influence what the interviewer thinks before you say a word. Your goal is to seem confident, capable and a good fit for the position. Your first step is to choose appropriate clothing.

But if you don’t have a lot of work experience yet, or you haven’t worked in a particular field before, it can be hard to know what to wear. Here are some tips:

  1. Dress the way you think the interviewer will dress. This can mean different things in different workplaces.
    • If you’re not sure, do more research on the company, maybe by asking the person who set up the interview.
    • As a rule, try to be slightly better dressed than the interviewer or employees. Err on the side of over-dressing, not under-dressing.
    • Avoid fabrics that will wrinkle after you’ve ironed them, such as linen. Pay attention to details, like missing buttons.
    • Avoid clothing that is see-through, flashy, too short or too tight.
    • Wear solid, neutral colours rather than busy or bold prints.
    • Keep jewelry and accessories understated.
  2. Ensure you are clean, neat and well groomed. This is critical. Take a shower, brush your teeth and comb your hair. Make sure your clothes are ironed and look good.
    • If you have a beard, trim it neatly.
    • If you have long hair, pull it back. It shouldn’t cover your face.
    • Trim your nails. Avoid nail polish, unless it’s clear.
    • Keep makeup to a minimum. Use neutral colours.
  3. Make sure your shoes are clean and in good repair.
    • If you have trouble walking in high heels, wear flats.
  4. Some companies have scent-free policies, so avoid perfume, cologne and after-shave.

Following these tips will make you look good and feel more confident and prepared. That will come across in the interview. Presenting yourself well tells the interviewer you understand the company culture and will fit in.

How Do I Prepare for an Interview? (2:57)
Prepare for a successful job interview using the Four Ps: Prepare, Practice, Participate and be Positive. For in-person career and employment services, visit your local Alberta Works Centre.

What About Creative Industries or the Not-for-Profit Sector?

Picking an interview outfit for a conservative industry is often easier than choosing one for a creative workplace, such as a graphic design company, or a more casual workplace, such as some not-for-profit agencies. In creative environments, a suit may seem old-fashioned or out of touch—you may want to dress with a bit of flair—while at a not-for-profit, expensive clothing might send the wrong message. You may need to do more research in these situations.

Some clothing items should always be avoided no matter where you want to work. Generally speaking, even in creative or casual workplaces, you should not go to an interview wearing:

  • running shoes
  • distressed jeans
  • white socks
  • T-shirts
  • logos
  • hats
  • anything too revealing, short or skimpy

No Need to Break the Bank

If you’re just starting out, the price of a few different interview outfits may seem daunting. Here are some tips to keep costs down:

  • Get an idea of what looks good by visiting high-end shops, but look for sales, visit outlet stores or shop in high-quality consignment stores.
  • Try the outfit on at a store, but buy it online, where you can often get a better discount.
  • If you may have more than one interview at the same company, invest in a single good suit, but switch your shirt and accessories (tie or scarf).

What do Interviewers Think About Tattoos and Piercings?

There is no hard-and-fast rule about showing tattoos or piercings at job interviews. Overall, views are becoming more liberal, but you will still need to use your judgment. For example, think about not only the industry you want to work in, but the type of job you want:

  • Consider whether your piercing could pose a health or safety issue at your job. For example, if the work is very physical, could a piercing be torn out by accident? A rule of thumb is that if other jewelry, like earrings or bracelets, has to be removed, piercings should be, too.
  • If the industry is conservative (such as accounting or banking) or the position is public-facing (such as receptionist or salesperson), cover up your ink, at least for the interview.

If you hide the tattoo or remove the piercing, but it’s in a place where someone is bound to see it if you get the job, mention it at the interview and ask if it’s likely to be a problem. This tells the interviewer that you care about the company’s culture and values, and that you have integrity.

Next Steps

Remember, while your appearance goes a long way, you can add to it by offering a firm handshake and a smile, seeming attentive and engaged, making eye contact, and generally presenting a positive attitude.

Photo Credit: © globalmoments/
Used for illustrative purposes.
Subject may be a model.

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