What you wear in the job interview is an important part of the impression that you make. Your career success depends on your understanding of the new dress code, and I’m not just talking about redefining business casual. There’s a context for professionalism across all industries that’s changed radically in recent years. Dressing professionally has taken on a whole new meaning. For example, in some cities the only thing that you say to a man wearing a tie and a three-piece suit is, “Will the defendant please rise?” Turns out that no matter where you want to work, there’s something more important than being impressive with your first impression. Do you know what it is?
People Like It Real - That’s the mantra of Dr. Todd Dewett, the number one watched management expert on LinkedIn Learning. When he rolls up his sleeves for an interview, you’ll see some dazzling tats from his watch to his elbow. His impressive artwork is the subject of one of his best-selling books, Show Your Ink—a manifesto on how to be yourself and be professional at the same time. “Authenticity is about filtering less, posturing less, being more open about your thoughts and beliefs, and more uncensored in how you look and behave. People crave it.” In a recent podcast, Dewett says that being real isn’t as easy as it sounds—and it’s not always effective. “We are all projecting these polished images.” The good doctor says that trying to dress like someone you’re not is a bridge too far. Often people want to know the real person - because that’s who they are hiring. That means that if you’ve got some art, piercings or gauges or whatever it is that expresses your identity don’t try to hide it. But authenticity isn’t an excuse: there’s a balance between self-expression and doing your job. If you show up to the bank interview in a concert t-shirt (because Shawn Mendes is your jam), what does that say about your understanding of the position and the profession? Or your taste in music?
Four Words for Your Wardrobe - When it comes to the job interview, the best fashion advice doesn’t come from Pinterest, Esquire or Boohoo. True, images and ideas can inform your opinions of what looks good—but who knows better than you what fits for your style (and substance)? When it comes to the job interview process, consider the company and the position you want, first and foremost, to inform your fashion choices. (I’m not suggesting that your style needs to match a pattern, but it’s wise to know what that pattern is). A surfing instructor needs a different wardrobe than an architect, right? So make the clothes match the role. “I’ve thought this through” are the four words you need when you approach your closet (or go online) to find the right look. Be yourself by showing that you know what the role requires - and if breaking the pattern is the choice you need to make, just think it through!
Imprisoned by Free Speech? Self-expression matters, but expressing yourself as the best candidate for the position is the strategy that fits. Some people use authenticity as an excuse: “I was just being real when I told Tricia that her political views were ridiculous; gun training for teens is what she should support!” That kind of statement isn’t about doing your job or serving the company. Polarizing statements—like polarizing fashion statements - aren’t helping you to help others. Dewett explains it like this: “Every social context (e.g., work, school, church, the grocery store) has a set of performance norms concerning attire and grooming. By violating them you are asking to be judged. If the workplace is conservative and you show up in jeans, expect to be looked at cautiously.” Is your wardrobe getting in the way of your freedom to do your job effectively? Because if who you are is getting in the way of what you do, you might need to change more than your clothes.
Making Your First Impression Last - Sylvie DiGiusto is the author of The Image of Leadership. “People packaging is what I do,” she says. “There are many elements that make up your professional reputation. And some image consultants will tell you that the clothes you wear is the most important one,” Sylvie offers. “Well, this was probably true decades ago. Today's world moves faster and leaders face new challenges that go far beyond your wardrobe.” The thing that really makes your wardrobe make sense: consistency. After all, if people meet you IRL (in real life) and they say, “Hmm...I liked your avatar better,” there’s a disconnect between what you’re projecting and who you really are. In the workplace, you won’t have the benefit of an Instagram filter to make you look snazzy. Helping others to be better is the real key to your success—that’s a style we can all agree on. Which matters more to you: service or self-expression? Consistency, from your clothes to your conversation, is the key to credibility. The bottom line: it makes sense to look the part—but if it looks like you are playing a part, are you really being true to yourself?
Looking good is important, but an authentic and consistent approach is what everyone wants. So think things through by balancing your authenticity with the job requirements. The new dress code means wearing what makes the most sense for your next role (not just dressing to impress). Otherwise, we’d all show up in evening gowns and tuxedos—and that doesn’t make much sense (unless you’re auditioning for a James Bond movie). Dressing for success means finding the right fit for the company. If you’re infatuated with your own needs for self-expression, what does that say about your professionalism and attention to the company culture? Showcase your skills in a way that’s consistent: if how you’re dressed isn’t helping convey that consistency, it’s time for a change.
The new dress code is simple: dress for the role you want and the person that you are.
Don’t strive to project a persona—be a real person, with a powerful and authentic interest in the position. Ultimately, that’s the most impressive outfit that anyone can choose.