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Dress for Success
How Not to Dress for a Job Interview

How NOT to Dress for an Interview

Three career experts share their most outrageous stories about candidates who got it all wrong. Plus: tips for how to avoid their mistakes and land that coveted position in NYC.

New York is a dress-for-success city, where walking down the street is attune to walking down the catwalk. And there is no more important outfit than the one you wear to strut into a job interview. Choosing the right clothing can make or break your career in this city. While every industry has its own specific rules for workplace attire, some standards apply from fashion to finance. We turned to New York-based experts to hear some of their craziest stories, and find out exactly what is appropriate – and what isn’t.

“Her blouse kept popping open over and over again!” Modesty is a must, for everyone. Lizandra Vega, an executive recruiter and author of The Image of Success: Make a Great Impression and Land the Job You Want (AMACOM) has seen everything, from a woman’s blouse popping open over and over again to another gentleman going commando while wearing light pants in the summer. “Dressing for career success is about choosing power pieces that complement your best features and highlight you in the best possible way,” she says. “Any type of cleavage is an absolute no, so no exaggerated V-necks or halter tops. The same goes for the shoulders.” And the hot summer in the city is no excuse for being bare. “Wear a jacket, even if it’s mid-July,” says Vega.

“He came in looking like he was wearing borrowed clothes.” Getting your clothes tailored is a worthwhile splurge. Wearing clothing that doesn’t fit your proportions is not just unflattering, it comes off as sloppy and can reflect on your ability to get the job done right. “You’ll have a candidate for a position walk in and you think to yourself, ‘what is off about this person?’” says Lara Horton, an HR Consultant for digital marketing company Kinetic Social. “They look uncomfortable and it has to do with what they are wearing.” And it can make you look unprepared “If it doesn’t fit you, it looks like you borrowed it from someone,” says Horton. The same goes for tight clothing. “You may have gained a few pounds and are trying to squeeze into something,” she adds. “It doesn’t look good.”

“His resume was wrinkled, and so were the collar and cuffs of his shirt.” So you got the right outfit, made sure the fit is right, but that’s not the end of the story. You might have the smartest looking suit in the bunch, but not paying attention to details can attract the wrong kind of attention. Vega is always surprised to see individuals come in for an interview wearing stained clothes or look like they just rolled out of bed. “If you are wearing dress slacks, you need to have the pleats pressed, and your collars and cuffs crisp,” she says. She recalls meeting with a candidate for a creative position who came in with rumpled clothing. “These serve as nonverbal clues on how he might present his work, and are not a good reflection.” Meanwhile Kinetic Social’s Horton advises against outdoorsy accessories like knapsacks and ski jackets that come off as too casual for an important interview. She also warns that a level of polish should extend to, well, your polish. “Never come in with chipped nail polish. It’s these little things that are noticed,” she says. “If you bite your nails, get them cleaned up somewhere and have a manicure. You won’t be so self-conscious during an interview and hide your hands.”

“He was wearing jeans, and didn’t even get past HR.” Just because your jeans cost $200 at Barneys doesn’t mean they are appropriate for that big interview. The look is too casual for people to take you seriously. “I had a candidate who went on an interview in jeans,” says Marie Raperto, who works with clients, corporations and non-profits across all sectors as president and owner of Cantor Integrated Marketing Staffing. “The HR person at the corporation didn’t even present the candidate to the hiring manager. The comment was made that ‘employees earn the right to dress comfortably.’” It’s always best to check with the recruiter if dressing down is appropriate, especially if it is a casual workplace. “A company may have a culture where you can wear jeans, but you owe a certain amount of respect to the interviewer, so you should be more formally dressed at least for the first interview,” says Raperto.

“She became ‘yellow shirt girl.’” The most important thing to remember when you are getting dressed for an interview is that the ultimate goal is not to distract from your stellar resume. “The best thing for me is when a client doesn’t mention a candidate’s clothing,” says Raperto. “You don’t want to be somebody who comes in with a yellow shirt, and be remembered in the back of someone’s mind as the person with the yellow shirt. When it comes down to only talking about a person’s skill set, then you know that they made a connection.” Horton agrees. “At the end of the day, you’re hired for your skill set, past experience and overall social ability,” says Horton. “If you walk in looking like a million bucks, but can’t present yourself, you’re not going to get the job either.”

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