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Facing the Music: 3 Style Tips that Tune You Up for Interview Success

Men may have that James Dean, daydream look in their eyes and women may adorn that red lip classic thing that they like, but Taylor Swift’s assertion that “we never go out of Style” seemed to skip a beat among a select group of interviewees.Facing themusic-iStock

Just when I think that I’ve seen it all, someone sets the limbo bar even lower. From men wearing mismatched suits and displaying untamed head and facial hair to women who flaunt plunging neck lines, skimpy dresses, and blue nail polish, little do they realize that clothes influence 65 percent of decision-makers.

After observing a candidate who wore sunglasses on the top of her head throughout a recent interview, I was certain that Glamour magazine was secretly conducting a photo op for their fashion “dos and don’ts” section.

Regardless of income bracket, you can dress to impress. There are great, accessible resources that help people pull it together. Low-income candidates will find excellent selections at Dress for Success (women) and CareerGear (men). Places such as Marshalls, Talbots, Ann Taylor, Dillard’s, and Brooks Brothers offer nice selections for mid- to high-income level candidates.

Unparalleled in market preparation, experiential MBA students at Charlotte-based Wake Forest University are put through the wringer of protocol. They know that nailing the look means that you must know your audience, as well as the expectations of the role and industry. Consulting interviews have their own guidelines, and the executive suite is a ballgame of its own. Regardless of your place on the career ladder, the following tips will help you fine tune your style.

  1. SUIT OR NOT? Unless a potential employer tells you to dress casual, always wear a suit and tie to your first interview. Black, navy blue, or gray remain the colors of choice. Be honest with yourself and dress for your weight, skin tone, and comfort.

Men: Avoid double-breasted suits. Opt for the classic single-breasted, two-button, solid-colored suit. Select a crisp white shirt (save colored shirts for a second interview) and avoid French cuffs. Informal cultures may allow a sports coat and tie, but there is something to say about a sharp dressed man.

Women: Today, women have the option to wear a suit or a dress. Pant suits are also acceptable for many companies. If you choose a dress, stick with a simple, conservative style such as a sheath, but select a style that covers your shoulders. A skirt and blouse is acceptable for informal cultures, but only if the interviewer forewarns you.

  1. There is a difference between expression and tasteful expression. Now is not the time to demonstrate your love of bling. Remember, you are not dressing for flair or personality, but a new role. Go for a look that screams polished sophistication.

Men: Avoid flashy ties and socks. Bow ties are not acceptable. Choose a tie that is solid or exhibits a subtle dot, stripe, or paisley pattern.

Say no to flashy rings, chains, and watches, and if you have an earring, remove it. Dying to wear your airplane, gun, or Lego novelty tie clip? Don’t.

Always remember that your belt should match your shoes and your socks should match the color of your pants.

When it comes to cologne, nobody likes a Pepe le Pew. Just say no to the Axe.

Women: Wear conservative jewelry. Avoid bracelets and flashy watches. When it comes to earrings, simple is best. J-Lo shower-ring hoops are great for weekends, but go for the small diameter hoops or unique, modern studs that complement an outfit and reflect neutrality.

Make-up should be neutral. You may rock a 60s-style eye liner with frosted shadow, but for an interview, it is not the cat’s meow. Avoid bright or faddish nail polish and opt for a neutral color or French manicure. While we are on the subject of nail polish: it is either on or off; there is no in between.

Don’t be a bag lady. Choose a small purse that is proportionate to your body. Make sure your skirt is at the knee or slightly above, and avoid textured hose while ensuring the color matches your shoes.

Remember, perfume that invigorates you may nauseate another. Leave it on your dresser.

  1. A University of Kansas study says you can tell a lot about a person from their shoes, and one recruiter even dedicated a blog piece to the subject. Give yourself plenty of time to find the perfect shoes, and if you must buy new, break them in ahead of time.

Men: Leather laced shoes in a black, brown, or cordovan color go best with a suit, but some slip-ons are fine. Make sure that your socks cover half your calf so skin doesn’t show when sitting. Your shoes and belt should match.

Women: Mid- to low-heel, closed-toe pumps in professional, neutral colors are best. Your bootie-style pumps or calf-high boots might be made for walkin’, but they are not appropriate for interviews. Heels–even a kitten heel–enhances the business look, but don’t exceed three inches.

Once your ensemble is pulled together, conduct a sit-down test to spot riding skirts, gaping blouses, and stretched buttons. Look in a full-length mirror. Turn to the left; turn to the right. Fashion doesn’t have to be big and bland nor full of tension and fear. Just professional.

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