For recent graduates, looking for a job and entering the workforce is stressful enough without contemplating recycling mascot T-shirts for blazers and dress pants. However, research shows that in an interview, your appearance is just as important as what is on your resume when you walk in the door.

“Only seven percent of a first impression is spoken word,” says Michelle Sterling, founder of Global Image Group, an international image consulting firm. Most experts agree that exactly what you’re wearing is not as important as looking prepared and professional. Sterling says this generation’s job seekers are very relaxed, so they need to be concerned about projecting a polished look, even in a casual workplace environment. No matter the office culture, interview attire should still be formal.



“I think the mistake that a lot of young people make is that if the company is casual, they go very casual for the interview,” says Nancy Plummer, Chicago-based image consultant and owner of Fine Threads, Inc. “Stick with traditional until you get the job.”

For young men and women, Plummer advocates what she calls a “classic yet contemporary” look.

Choose basic pieces in a neutral color (black, navy, gray, khaki), such as a shift dress for ladies and dress pants and a jacket for men. Then add color and personality with accessories. Women can add a bright shoe or belt, while men can add a contemporary touch with a patterned tie or colored shirt.


Lisa Orndorff, manager of employee relations and training for the Society of Human Resource Management, recognizes that many young job applicants don’t have the money for fancy business clothes. She says it’s not necessary for young people to show up in a $3,000 tailored suit for a job interview. It’s about putting your best foot forward to the company, whatever that best foot may be.

“That could just mean you buy an iron and iron your oxford shirt and khakis,” Orndorff says. “Showing up in a wrinkled shirt – you can fix that.”

Good news for young women, though: In most offices, hosiery is out, and peep-toe pumps are also acceptable, even for the initial interview.

But remember, no matter whether your potential workplace is formal or casual, showing too much of anything is never a good idea. “Too much cleavage, too much crack and see-through blouses are meant for after 5 p.m.,” Plummer says. “We want to see your personality, not your breasts.”

The wrong look for a job interview can often kill your chances of getting a job. With that in mind, here are a few tips when preparing yourself for an interview.

  • Unusual hair color: Yes, the blue hair looks cool, but a traditional workplace may not accept such individuality. Keep it natural so the focus is on you, not your hair.
  • Visible tattoos and body piercings: Like it or not, these styles can connote youth and irreverence, so make sure you’re taken seriously by covering up tattoos with sleeves and hemlines, and removing your piercings.
  • Strappy, open-toed shoes: It’s a job interview, not a night at the club. Leave those shoes at home. While you’re at it, make sure your shoes are of a shade darker than your hemline or pant cuff. It makes for a more solid look.
  • Short sleeves: Long sleeves give an impression of authority and professionalism. If you’re wearing a blazer and take if off during the interview, make sure your shirt underneath is long-sleeved, too, unless you’re going for that look enjoyed by your Uncle Stan at your mom’s anniversary party.
  • Too much perfume: Imagine your interviewer catches a whiff of a perfume an ex used to wear. You may be crossed off the second interview list, no matter your qualifications. Play it safe and keep the fragrances subdued.
  • Too much makeup: Unless you want to be minimized as “that woman with all that eye shadow,” keep it simple. Makeup should enhance you, not overwhelm your interviewer. Try for natural and minimal.

Buy "Calling All Grads" Kindle eBook. Job tips for college gradsThis article was excerpted from the new eBook “Calling All Grads! Turn a Degree into a Job,” edited by careers writer and editor Marco Buscaglia and published by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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