One of the great benefits of my job, is to watch individuals as they go through the various (and sometimes painful) stages of career change and evolve into a new person. Over the last year, I have had the pleasure to work with Heather Poduska, whose previous life was as a successful opera singer in Boston, where she sang with the Boston Lyric Opera. After many months of working together, Heather has now launched a business as an image consultant where she is able to combine her skills in professional presence, creativity, marketing and helping others. Heather was kind enough to author an article for my blog.
Why is image so important in a job interview?
Well, let me put it this way, if you walk into a hair salon and the person cutting your hair does not have an attractive, clean, hair style do you feel confident they will give you an attractive hairstyle? They may be the most talented stylist in the salon, but you would never know by their appearance. Perhaps they were up all night with a sick child and did not have a chance to style their hair. Maybe their hot water heater broke suddenly and they couldn’t take a shower that morning. But you don’t know that. All you see is someone who is about to cut your hair and they look a mess. The same is true in any business. You may be the most talented lawyer, marketing executive, bio-engineer, publisher, but if you don’t look professional, the first impression may be that you are not competent.
Ok, I understand that I am supposed to look professional, but what does that mean?
First of all, make sure that you are groomed properly! Are you clean? Are your clothes clean, pressed and in good condition? Are your shoes without scuffs? Is your hair cut maintained and in an up-to-date style? Are your nails manicured? Ladies, please no long nails or bright nail polish colors. Men, are you clean shaven or is your beard and mustache groomed? This checklist may seem obvious, but many people often neglect even basic grooming and wonder why they are not getting the response they desire. You are kidding yourself if you think are people are not noticing your wrinkled shirt or your ragged cuticles.
After you have covered the basics, I suggest you do some research into your chosen field. What are the dress codes that are spoken and unspoken? If you want to work at a hip and trendy gallery and you show up in a suit, it will make just as bad an impression as if you show up to a corporate interview in a colorful, relaxed outfit. Do you know any one working in your desired field? Ask what people usually wear. Better yet, do some re-con and sit outside a place of work in which you are interested and watch people come and go at lunch time. Or, go to a busy lunch place where people in your industry eat and see how they are dressed. You will begin to get a sense of the level of dress required. I would suggest, however, you stick to the most conservative edge of whatever field you are in for your first interview.
What are some things I can do to make myself stand out from the pack?
In my opinion, the best thing you can do is to get yourself a great haircut. Hair is probably the most dramatic tool you have for creating a specific look. Let your hairdresser know how conservative your field is, or is not and then ask for advice on an appropriate, yet modern style. If your field is more creative you can be more adventurous with your style. However, even in a very conservative environment you still want to look modern and up to date. No fuddy-duddy hair!
I also think color and accessories are great tools for creating interest and individuality when dressing. Even if your industry demands you wear a dark suit, you can stand out by putting a brightly colored shirt underneath. This season plum seems to be a hot color. A plum satin shirt under a black suit can look stunning. If you are fair you might try a softer version like a lilac color and then add plum accents with a necklace or broach.
Lastly, remember your cases, bags and portfolios. You could look great head to toe and then pull out a sloppy or scuffed attache case. Instead, use this opportunity to top off your polished look with the best quality brief case and portfolio you can afford. If you are in a creative field you could choose an interesting color. If you are in a conservative field make sure your bags are neutral dark colors, preferably in a high quality leather. Make sure all bags and portfolios are in perfect condition.
Any last suggestions?
If you follow these simple steps you will be well on your way to making a great first impression at your interview. Remember, however, that your best accessory is your smile. Interviews are not comfortable for anyone and that includes the interviewer. A great smile will help put everyone at ease and can only help to accentuate your great style!