Looking for work: The DON’Ts of dressing for a job interview

Holy jeans, Batman!—bad


Flip flops—bad

Ratty old shoes—bad


Excess jewelry—bad


Toad Suck T-shirt—bad


Backwards baseball cap—bad

Business attire—GOOD

Business attire for him—GOOD

Get ready for the big interview

This year’s National Hobo Convention is Aug. 6–10 in Britt, Iowa. Featuring parades, hobo poetry and a pudding eating contest, a fun time surely will be had by all.

Is that where you’re heading? To a hobo convention?

No? Then take off the flip-flops and hoodie, brush your hair and brace yourself for some tough love.

This is about job interviews.

Legions of high school and college students right now are preparing for graduation and a cold-water plunge into the labor market, which still is “slack,” Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen reported Monday in Chicago.

“Although firms are now laying off fewer workers, they have been reluctant to increase the pace of hiring,” Yellen told attendees at a national conference on community reinvestment.

Which means competition is strong, with new graduates vying for jobs alongside longtime members of the workforce. And that makes impressions, first or otherwise, all the more important.

In a 2008 study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Ohio State University researchers suggested that a person forms a first impression and stays with it, seeking later cues that align with the first impression. And first impressions can be formed in seconds.

The point being, if you want a job, look like you want a job. Do not wear a hoodie. Do not wear the jeans you wore when painting the shed. Do not wear a nightclub’s worth of cologne.

In fact, because the “don’t” is always the most interesting part of those fashion “do and don’t” columns, herewith is Fashion Don’t: Job Interview Edition.


Show up dirty.

Seriously, take a shower. Clean your fingernails. Kick the mud off your boots.

“Above all else, be clean,” said Nina Anderson, president and CEO of Express Employment Professionals in Grand Junction. “I’ve gone to job fairs where people will come in with their resumés and still have mud on their boots from the field. That’s not the way to come in to a job fair. Keep a clean pair of shoes in your car if you need to.”

So, brush your hair and don’t assume you can just casually drape your arm across the mustard stain. Employers will think you’re weird.



Wear a T-shirt.

“Certainly, what you wear to the interview is kind of job-specific, and some workplaces are more casual, but a consistent don’t is T-shirts,” said Darren Spomer, president of Labor Etc. in Grand Junction.

It’s super that you’ve been to St. Thomas and bought the T-shirt, but it’s probably more important that an employer knows whether you can use PowerPoint.

But it’s a plain T-shirt, you say? Don’t. It’s made out of a fancy material? Don’t. It was expensive? Don’t. Don’t. Don’t.


Wear a baseball cap.

This is not a farm-league baseball game and chances are good you’re not the star catcher. It’s a job interview. Backward or forward makes no difference. It has no place on your head in a job interview.



Wear jeans.

Yes, some workplaces are more casual, but jeans are still a don’t, Spomer said. If jeans are the best you have, there are resources that can help (for starters, the Mesa County Workforce Center, 248-0871 or workforcecenter.mesacounty.us).

A good rule of thumb, Anderson said, is to dress for the level directly above the one for which you’re interviewing. So, if you’re applying for an entry-level fast food job, dress for your interview in khakis and a button-down like the manager wears.

And don’t wear jeans. DO. NOT.



Wear a hoodie.

This isn’t bedtime. It’s job time.

“Even if you think you’re just out picking up applications, you never know if the manager will be available right then and want to do an interview that day,” Anderson said.



Wear flip-flops.

Yes, this needs to be said, because “you’d be surprised,” Spomer said.

Toes do not belong at a job interview. Slap-slap-slap is not the soundtrack of a job interview. Señor Frog is not the spirit animal of the job interview.



Wear anything ratty.

Starting with your shoes, moving up to the cuffs of your pants and sleeves, to your collar and haircut. Attention to the details of your appearance can make you seem like someone who pays attention to detail on the job, Anderson said.

Before walking out the door, check for holes, stains, stray threads, missing buttons, any hint of fray. Change immediately if you find any of those.



Reveal too much.

This goes for cleavage of bosom or butt; leg from the knee north; chest hair; nose hair. Job interviews, Anderson said, are a time to err on the side of conservative dress and grooming.

Even if you’re interviewing in a trendy, fashionable or youth-oriented field, it is better to be more covered than less. If you’re in doubt, call before the interview and ask the human resources director or receptionist what would be appropriate attire for that work environment.


Over-do the accessories.

That can mean jewelry, make-up and cologne or perfume.

Too much of any of those can be a distraction, and you want your talents and accomplishments to shine in the interview, not your Canal Street Faux-lex or the right half of Sephora. You are not on your way to clown college or Studio 54, you are on your way (hopefully) to employment.

Keep it low-key.



Interpret the job interview as a time to reveal the full, glorious spectrum of You.

It’s great that you’re creative, it’s great that there are fractals and rainbows inside your head, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to show up in a muumuu or tin foil hat because they Express Who You Are.

A job interview is a time to keep it a little more neutral, Anderson said, and let your words and resumé express who you are and all you can offer the company.


And OK, because it would be no fun if this was all just a lot of hand-slapping Don’t, here are two Do’s:



Stick with the classics.

Men can rarely go wrong with dress pants, a button-down shirt and a tie. If it’s a white-collar management job you’re seeking, men and women should go with suits, of course, but otherwise, business-neutral is often the best route.

Women should consider dress shirts or skirts and neutral colors with nice shoes.



Your homework.

See what people are wearing in the field and dress accordingly. And that could even mean dressy slacks and a creative yet business-appropriate top with heels.

Yes, you want the job, but it’s OK to show signs of life, too.


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