The Importance of Appearance in a Job Interview
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person meeting another person will form assumptions about them in the first few seconds – probably before either of them even gets the chance to speak. When it comes to applying for jobs and general behavior in the workplace, certain expectations of appearance for a job will shape judgement in a job interview.
After several years of the pandemic, extended working from home, and changing work dynamics, some of the rigid structures in the workplace have changed. I promise that you will see everyone, including the biggest cats in the company, in casual attire every now and then. However, you must try to keep your appearance professional in your first interview.
But What Do We Mean by Appearance?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, our favorite and most reliable source, appearance means:
a) the way that somebody/something looks on the outside, or
b) what somebody/something seems to be.
Let’s consider this for a moment. The first explanation is, unsurprisingly, the one that most people will think of when pondering on appearances. Height, weight, hair color, clothing, and similar outwardly features, which distinguish people from one another, all come into the equation of appearance. However, your job interview appearance does not pertain only to how you look – it’s also about what kind of impression you make.
First Appearance – First Impression – First Victory
Yes, I know. In an ideal world, how you look should be the least of any employer’s worries. Your qualifications, insights, and experience should be decisive factors in the job market rat race we are all grappling with. But, sadly, appearances matter. Or at least, bad appearances do, especially if they are the first impression you make.
Imagine yourself in the position of a CEO or a hiring manager. You’re interviewing a person who has clearly had an irreconcilable argument with a shower. Not. Fun. Worse yet, there seems to be a parrot poking out of their breast pocket, yelling profanities at you. An extreme example, I know, but you get what I mean.
On the other hand, appropriate behavior and attire will positively affect your employer, which will direct their attention to what you’re really there to show off – your skills.
Physical Appearance at a Job Interview
Following our Oxford definition, I address the obvious first. Assuming you have an interview at a typical company, you can follow these simple steps to leave a good, lasting impression on the hiring team.
Consider the Nature of the Institution You’re Applying To
Some places will have stricter attire regulations (for example, consultancies, sales agencies, nursing homes, etc.). If you aim to enter one of these professions, you can do some pre-emptive research on their uniforms. That does not mean you need to buy their uniform (that will come across as pretentious), but you’ll get an idea of what works. On the other hand, many start-ups, IT companies, or even universities are more relaxed with their clothing choices, and you can go for business casual styles with them.
Show Up Neat, Clean, and Fresh
Try to get a good night’s sleep the day before, take a shower, and do your hair in a non-obtrusive way. If you have long hair, check out some classy buns, ponytails, or long braids so that your hair doesn’t distract you. For the short-haired lot, clean and simple does the trick. Thankfully, we are progressing as a society, and bright hair colors are no longer frowned upon.
Wear Simple, Fitting Clothes
Less is more, and if you’re not sure what to do, go for more conservative options. You can’t go wrong with simple suits and ties and regular white shirts (I suggest ironing them beforehand!). To spice it all up, cotton slacks, A-line skirts, and blouses are among the top choices. (PS, leave your clubbing heels at home, too. Wear shoes that you can walk in comfortably.)
Although overdressed is better than underdressed for a job interview, you don’t have to go all out and spend big bucks on designer clothes or shoes. Frankly, eBay and your local charity store will probably cover you in under $20. Focus on comfortable fits with neutral patterns and somewhat subdued colors to direct the attention to more important things, such as why you’re such an awesome candidate.
Controversies around Job Interview Appearance
It pains me to write this, but there are, unfortunately, some blood-curdling, old-fashioned, prejudiced views on appearance in the workplace. These include the idea that women should get rid of their body hair and men should forget about beards. No make-up is apparently lazy, but too much of it is tacky; tattoos can be problematic, and even the types of shoes could offend someone.
On this occasion, I would highly recommend that you determine your priorities when choosing a workplace. Remember, a job interview is a two-way street, and you get to judge your potential employer just as much as they get to assess you. If someone has that much of a problem with body hair that they disregard everything you bring to the table, you probably wouldn’t want to work for them. Therefore, pick your battles and don’t lose yourself to the possibility of a job. Always go for what makes you comfortable (and your gut-feel, too!).
Check Out These Job Interview Appearance Examples
The whole classical business attire sounds rather vague, but you can check out some of these outfits and get inspired.
Give Your Appearance Meaning
In the whole charade of expectations and half-cooked opinions on what suitable attire is, one thing you should not forget is YOURSELF. As I said, less is more, and some classical looks are more than enough to pass the bar. You do not need to bend over backwards or change your whole wardrobe to fit the idea of a company. If you’re a big nerd, feel free to show that off with some subtle fandom merch (like lapel pins, patches, scarves, or bags). If you love make-up, by all means, use it. The same goes for any other preference. While each place has a different clothing etiquette, they should also allow you to be yourself and express that freely.
As I said before, if a particular company’s emphasis on dress code and attitude makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s probably not the right environment for you, anyways!
What Else Makes a Good Appearance for a Job Interview?
On to our second part of the definition of appearance – the impression you make and what people think you are like. Of course, you shouldn’t be weighed down by what other people think, but you need to make a good impression in a job interview. Your behavior contributes to your first appearance just as much as your clothes. Here are some things you must be mindful of when going for an interview:
- Be punctual. There’s nothing worse than being an unreliable person, and your being late for a job interview will paint you in a negative light. Make sure you get up early on the big day and leave the house on time. Plan for extra time in case something goes awry (as Murphy’s law will always have it). Of course, life gets in the way sometimes – maybe your car or train breaks down, or you get a nasty stomach bug, or you simply forget something. In this case, make sure you call your employer and give them the heads up.
- Treat the staff kindly. This goes without saying. Don’t give anyone side-eyes or, worse still, snappishness. Even if your train has broken down, a mad driver splashed you and flooded your new shoes, or a bad seat on the metro caught and tore your nylon stockings, it’s no reason to be rude. Treat everyone with respect and politeness.
- Show that smile. Don’t be afraid to smile when meeting your interviewer and potential co-workers. Even if you’re wearing a mask, a proper smile reaches the eyes and gives you an air of warmth and openness.
- Give a proper handshake. If your interviewer offers you a hand (Corona permitting), shake it firmly. Nobody really likes those limp, somewhat slimy handshakes.
- Relax, you’ve got this. It’s natural to be nervous in a job interview, but you don’t need to flaunt it. Don’t go biting your nails, fidgeting incessantly, or flipping your hair (thus the recommended hairdos). You’ve been picked from the crowd, so your skillset already fits the company! The interview is just a chance to highlight your strengths and personality. Own it!
Best of luck!