Everyone knows that you should always wear a suit to a job interview and in a formal work environment, right? Well, not exactly.
As a Transition Team Specialist for the Military Officer's Association of America specializing in career fairs, I've seen plenty of jobseekers who are hurting their chance of landing that dream job.
My heart goes out to them because they are making a few simple mistakes that they can fix easily and signal to the interviewer that they can focus on the person inside the interview suit instead of the suit itself. Here are our 10 under the radar tips for perfecting you professional persona for an interview or in the work place:
1. Do NOT dust off your suit from 15 years ago! Invest in a classic black, dark gray or blue suit and have it tailored to fit your body. It is unlikely that a suit will fit you properly straight off of the rack. Ask around for a reliable tailor and be sure to bring your shoes to the fitting.
Also, please, please PLEASE do not forget to remove the big white X-shaped basting stitches from the vents! I see this at every career fair.
2. Do I hafta wear pantyhose?? When in doubt, yes. First, keep an eye on the length of your skirt. You probably know you need to keep the him at or below the knee, but not awkwardly mid-calf.
Then know that all pantyhose are not created equal. The following should be avoided in all professional environments: fishnets, non-traditional colors and patterns, fishnets, any hose that are baggy or too tight, colors that are meant to be natural or nude but do not come close to your skin tone (ex: dark tan pantyhose on a pale person is distracting), and fishnets.
3. Who doesn’t like tattoos? The person interviewing you or anyone in a professional work environment! Unless you are trying to work at a tattoo parlor, you should do your best to cover up your tattoos for an interview. No matter how casual the work environment appears to be, it is best to err on the side of caution and wear clothes that will conceal your ink. If your clothes won’t cover them, look into tattoo concealer (makeup, sold at most cosmetic stores).
4. And this little piggy goes all the way to the unemployment line. I know you want to show off your fabulous pedicure-- but don’t! No one in a professional environment wants to see your toes, I promise.
Avoid open-toed shoes, sandals, flip flops, Crocs, etc. Women can wear a heel (not to be confused with a stiletto) or a professional flat. Men should wear dress shoes not boat shoes, slippers, cowboy boots, etc. or anything that slips on.
Make sure you coordinate your shoe color with your suit- black shoes work with black and gray suits, and dark brown or burgundy shoes are appropriate for a dark blue suit. Avoid crazy patterns, nontraditional colors, or trendy laces. If you are wearing an old pair, make sure they are clean (polished if necessary) and check the soles to ensure they don’t need to be replaced
5.Oooooh that smell! You may have the greatest cologne/perfume that money can buy. Conserve it by not using it in the work place or before an interview. If you must wear it, do so sparingly! A simple shower and deodorant is all you should need.
If you are a smoker or an onion lover, try to avoid partaking during working hours and NEVER smoke or eat/drink anything with a strong odor before a job interview. Use mints to cover up coffee breath and ditch the chewing gum.
6.Are those real diamonds on your watch? It’s not a question you should expect to hear during a job interview. Why? Because you should not be wearing any accessories that will distract the interviewer.
An interview is not the place to make a statement with your accessories or to show off your piercings, crazy ties or socks, bold cufflinks, huge hoop earrings, etc. (if you are not sure if it’s acceptable, don’t wear it!). Go simple. You want to be remembered for your talent and eloquent answers, not your bling.
7. Avoid a hairy situation. Now is not the time to experiment with a new cut or color. The last thing you want to be thinking about when starting a new job or going on an interview is your hair. In fact it’s the last thing you want anyone thinking about when interacting with you in a professional setting.
Hair should be neat, clean, and professional. For women with long hair- messy buns are not professional. If you have a wild and unruly do, seek professional guidance long before you interview or start a job so that you can practice managing it. Men should maintain a clean look and remember to groom the neck line.
8. Nailed it! Again, you want the focus to be on your performance in the interview or workplace and not on a fashion statement. If you have long nails (fake or real) with neon paint and glitter bows on them, that is what people will remember about you. Stick to a shorter length and classic, subtle polish. Men should keep nails trimmed and clean. VERY clean. Did I mention clean?
9. Clean Cut. It goes without saying that your shirt should be clean and free of wrinkles. However, there are several shirts that should be avoided in a professional setting.
Men’s short sleeved business shirts are for casual environments only (even if you choose to wear a tie) and not appropriate for an interview or a business formal atmosphere.
Always carefully consider colors when selecting a shirt. If it is off-white or a light yellow, it might appear dingy or old.
Avoid matching your shirt color with your suit. Subtle patterns are acceptable but avoid anything that is distracting, busy, or bright. Stick with a cotton blend. Men should not forget an undershirt! Most won’t notice you are wearing one, but they will notice if you aren’t.
10. America’s Next Top Professional. A job interview or hiring fair isn’t a competition. Don’t overdo it! Avoid using anything in excess (cologne/perfume, hair gels or products, self-tanner, tweezers, etc.). Ladies be conservative with your makeup. Heavy foundation and dark eye makeup are not appropriate in a professional setting.
Finally, don’t stress the small stuff. You aren’t expected to know everything right away and if you have the basics down, you will be fine!
I encourage you to put your professional image to the test at MOAA’s Military and Spouse Career Fair on October 18th at the Washington D.C. Convention Center (Ballroom, no preregistration required). Female service members and spouses are encouraged to attend our Women in Transition: Professional Imaging Seminar for more tips on perfecting your professional persona from Nordstrom, Paul Mitchell, and Estee Lauder professionals from Bloomingdales (open to all, no RSVP required). For more information please visit www.moaa.org/hire .
Amanda Bainton is one of MOAA's Transition Team Specialists who specializes in Career Fairs.