How should you dress to get the job you want? Does it even matter much what you wear for a job interview?
This is an important question for young people making the transition from school or tertiary studies to the workforce. And perhaps going to their first ever job interview.
To get some answers to these questions I spoke with award-winning stylist, Bernadette Payne.
Bernadette focuses on educating men and women about how their choice of clothes and personal styling can make important contributions to their success.
Her advice may be helpful if your child is attending interviews for jobs or even volunteer positions.
Listen to our discussion on the Learning Capacity Podcast
- How to dress for job interviews
People & organisations mentioned
If you would like to read the complete podcast transcript, here it is:
Episode 92 of The Learning Capacity Podcast
What to Wear to Get the Job You Want: Bernadette Payne
Peter Barnes: Hello, Bernadette we're going to talk about what young people should wear to a job interview.
And you're qualified to provide advice on this because you've run a business called That's-My-Style.
Bernadette: That's correct. Yes.
Peter: Can you tell me a little bit about, and then we'll talk about what people should wear to interviews?
Bernadette: Well, I founded That's-My-Style about four years ago now. I have 20 years of fashion industry experience and I really wanted to launch a business that I could share everything that I've learned in that time with every-day men and women to help them feel more confident and empowered. That's really where it started. Four years down the track, it's in full bloom.
Peter: Right. So, young people going for a job interview. It might be their first job interview. It might be an interview to get into a course, a college, or a university. How important is it that they dress appropriately, and what is appropriate?
Bernadette: Well, there's been a lot of research done, and it's very important. They say, "You've got seven seconds to make an impression," and I think it's probably even less. Whether we like it or not, we are judged on our appearance, and it's not even about whether we're attractive or whether we're kind, it can be when you're going for a job interview, if you're dressed clean, well put together, just made a bit of an effort, then it's perceived that you might be a better fit for the company, you've got good work ethic, you're professional, maybe that you've got integrity. So, people can sum you up visually and assume accurate or inaccurately a lot about you.
Peter: Yeah, that's true, isn't it?
Peter: When someone comes into my business for a job interview, instantaneously, there are conscious and unconscious opinions formed in my head about the person before they even speak. It’s about what they look like. And you're right. It's not whether they're attractive-looking or not. It's an overall impression. Is that what it is?
Bernadette: Yes, I agree. I read something recently that some managers have been interviewed and asked about exactly what we're talking about, and I think it was 65% said that if they have two candidates that have really similar qualifications or maybe they're both straight out of school so have no qualifications, their clothing is a huge decider in who they would hire, and for exactly the reasons, I guess, I've just mentioned. It can be about showing ... They may think, "Oh, they're going to make more of an effort within their role in the company because they've made more effort in their appearance."
Are there any rules about how to dress?
Peter: Yes. So, one of the things that intrigues me about this whole dressing for interviews, dressing for work, is that over the last couple of decades, our society has gotten way more casual than it used to be, right?
Peter: And so are there any rules?
Bernadette: Look, you know what? I hear a lot at the moment. I do style a lot of corporate men and women, and they're probably in their late 30s onwards, and this introduction of casual Fridays is a real burden to people because, I guess, from the point of view that they've always known what corporate means.
It's like you've got a uniform that you need to work. It's a suit and a tie and knee-length skirt and a jacket. And then they throw in Casual Friday, and people come to me and they're like, "I have actually no idea how to pull that off."
So, actually, going casual has become harder for some people or it's gone to the extreme where corporate companies have asked me to come in, and I had one recently where they said, "We need your help because Casual Friday's become, for some reason, people are wearing slutty shorts and thongs, which is completely unacceptable." So, it's actually created a lot of confusion and uncertainty for people, I think.
Peter: Does that mean casual ... Even with casual, getting back to the rules questions, there are rules, even if they haven't been written down or stated. There are rules, yes?
Bernadette: Yes. Yeah. Look, I think companies have rules. They usually have a dress code that they want their staff to adhere to, but it can be very difficult for them to enforce at times.
Peter: A young person going for their first job interview may never have had anything other than casual clothes. If they want an opinion on what they should wear, they'll likely be talking to their parents or their friends or something like that, and I don't know whether that advice is necessarily good or not, it depends on who they're asking no doubt,-
Peter: But if I were asking you, if I was a school leaver or if I'd just finished a three-year diploma or degree, and I was going for a job interview, what would your advice be?
Research the business and role to help decide on clothes
Bernadette: Cool. Well, my advice would be to find out as much information as you can about the role that you're going for, the company that you're working for, and you can do that either via the agency that's put you forward for the job, ask them what's expected of you, you can even ring the company and ask at the front desk. I'd say, "What's the expected dress code of your company."
So, that could give you a little bit of insight. If you're really blind and you're unsure, my advice is always to dress up rather than down. It's going to give a better impression.
So, if you're going for a corporate role, it's not a lot of money to outlay to buy suits and a clean pair of shoes and a plain white shirt and turn up in a really confident way. I know the power of this. I style people all the time that are going for advancements within their own career or the company they're already working for.
Actually, a woman that comes to mind is Bron and she actually worked from home for many, many years. She was actually in childcare, and after her marriage ... They got a divorce ... she actually came to me and said, "I actually need to re-enter the workplace, and I have no idea where to start," and the questions that I asked her were, "Well, how do you want to be perceived when you turn up for that job interview?" and she said, "Well, I want to look capable of working with children.
I want to look professional, but also approachable," So, we worked on what sort of clothes help you to portray what you're about and what your values are.
Bernadette: So, we went shopping and we put together an outfit, and a week later, she rang me, and I'll never forget this conversation 'cause she said to me, she said, "Bernadette, I got the job," and I was like, "Fantastic." I actually thought, "Of course she did." But she said to me, "I think the amazing part was that I felt so good in my outfit. I felt really confident. I felt a lot like myself that I was able to come across really confidently and feel confident, and in fact, I even was like, 'We should negotiate my package,' and actually get what I wanted."
The reason I'm telling you this is because I think the way you dress and the way you feel can really help so much when you're ... It can be really scary going for your first job interview, so feeling good and feeling like yourself and well put together and just making that extra bit of effort can really give you the confidence to sit there and put your best self forward.
Peter: There's no doubt that being confident in a job interview, not being overconfident, but just being confident is a huge advantage.
55% of the first impression is visual
Peter: With young people who may be a bit resistant to the idea of, "I've been wearing this stuff for the last ..." whoever many, " ... year, and I'm not going to go and get myself dressed up for some sort of a job." If they knew that the way they dress could potentially affect how they feel, which can affect whether or not they're going to get the job, that would be a reasonably good motivator, I imagine.
Bernadette: It's a huge edge. 55% of the first impression is visual. I think it's 7% are actually the words that you use. So, a young person listening to this, 55% is how you turn up and how you show yourself visually. That's a huge edge right there.
Peter: What about different jobs though? Suppose the candidate, let's call it the candidate, is going for a job in a creative field, like advertising agency, or a theatre company, and their friend is going for a job in a bank, a legal office, or a chartered accountancy firm. They're not going to dress the same, are they?
Bernadette: No, definitely not. Look, with something like a finance or a more corporate, I would definitely suggest going for a suit if you can. If you can't pull together a suit, then it's a skirt with a white blouse or it's a pair of dress pants and a shirt, good fit, clean. Go and buy a new outfit. It's not a huge amount to outlay in the big scheme of things.
So, whereas if you're going for a job in some marketing or a more creative role, like I worked in fashion for many years, and if you turned up in a suit, people were like, "Are you going for a job interview, Bernadette?" because you just look so out of place. So, I feel with more of a creative role, you get to add a bit of color and a bit of personality to your outfit.
I'll have to say, I'd say, "No," to denim. I think denim's a bit too casual. I think it's too easy. So, I think a bit of color, a bit of fun. It could be a cool pair of shoes. I always think shoes are good talking point.
So, I suggest, with clients I always say, "Add something fun, like a leopard print shoe," or for men, a coloured shoe or something that's different that you can be remembered for.
My husband's a builder and he gets approached a lot about apprentices, and the things that he's said to me that I'd like to share is they approach him through Facebook for starters whereas he's like, "I love when I see somebody show initiative and come and introduce themselves or email me in a professional way,"
And then to turn up in ... If you're going for job in a trade, you don't have to dress like you've got the job and you've been working there for five years. You want to come looking clean and well put together 'cause, again, that can give you that edge. There's a lot of people going for those roles.
You want to stand out. So, I'd say a pair of chinos and a polo, and again, clean shoes. Yeah, that can really make a big impression at that trade level.
Peter: How about ... Can you wear your school shoes?
Bernadette: Yeah, just make sure they're clean if that's what you've got to wear. I suggest getting away from the school shoes, but if that's all you've got and that's where you've gotta start, just make them clean.
Peter: What about standing out? You mentioned standing out a couple of times. You want to stand out in a good way, no doubt, not in a bad way.
Peter: Not sort of like dressed jarringly different to the environment you're trying to get into, but-
Accessories and colours
Bernadette: Yeah, I think no accessories that are loud and annoying, things like that. You don't want to stand out for that. I often chat to men about going for job interviews. Go for navy, go for really neutral colors rather than bright. But again, it's different if you want to be more creative.
I think you can push it a bit there. But navy creates trust and confidence and gray is calm, and I think white's always looking clean and simplistic versus, I guess, if you want to be more creative and stand out, like I mentioned, coloured shoe or a coloured handbag or introduce those purples and greens and could be polka dot, you know? Just something fun that will make you stand out and be remembered, but not over the top. You want to be fairly conservative in an interview.
Peter: How about the idea that I've heard to get a fit. Earlier on, you mentioned that you really should try and figure out what the dress code of the entire organization is and dress a little bit up above that.
Peter: Is one way of doing that actually just going and hanging around outside the office at 5:00PM at the end of the day.
Bernadette: Like a stalker!
Peter: Like a stalker.
Bernadette: Look, you could do that. Yeah. If I was going for my first job and it was something that I really, really wanted, I'd be finding out as much about the company as I can. I love researching and finding out as much as I can, so I've got that edge. When you see me, you know a bit about their background.
There's no reason why you can't call them and say, "Look, I'm coming for an interview next week and I want to make a great impression. Could you just let me know what your dress code here is?" They'll be like, "This guy or this girl's really interested." People love that now because we want people to be eager and keen and showing initiative.
Peter: Yes, yes, yes. I had a recent instance where a young man, he was second year university, came in and interviewed for a marketing intern role,-
Peter: ... and we're a casual organization, we don't get dressed up at any sense at all at any time unless we're visiting clients and so forth, and this young man came in and he had a long sleeve shirt ... It was winter time ... in a long sleeve shirt and cotton trousers and he had a tie on, and I go, I said ... It took my breath away ... "Wow. My God. This person's got a tie on."
It was an instantaneous tick for that person, even though he'd dressed way above our regular standard, but he made an impression, and he got the job, too, by the way.
Bernadette: Oh, yeah. Well, that's great. He can then loosen that. He's got the role, he's made the impression, and no, the tie doesn't have to come back. He's made the effort to show up at the interview, and, like I said, that really can say a lot about that person.
Peter: What about electronic accessories, like big digital watches or taking your iPhone into a job interview? Got any thoughts on that?
Bernadette: Look, I don't think there's ever a reason that you need your phone out at an interview. It should be tucked away. You should be there, 100% present in that moment, for sure.
Peter: How about the difference between ... Is there any difference in your advice for males and females? Anything specific that you say to a young woman compared to a young man?
Bernadette: Look, I think the principles are really the same.
Make the effort, make sure that the fit is ... Fit's really, really important in clothing in general. Oversized or too tight is never great, so you want to make sure that your clothes fit. I guess with women, you want to make sure that ... What impression do you want to give off at that interview?
So, the length of your skirt or the ... I'll ask women all the time when I'm styling them, "Where are you comfortable for your top? How low do you feel comfortable with your top?" and so many women are like, "Well, in the work environment? Here.
But if I'm out on the weekend, it's a bit lower," so how do you want to be perceived in the workplace, and just really asking yourself that, and turning up at the best version of you. You know how you want others to treat you. I just think clothing is really a powerful tool.
Peter: Right. Bernadette, look, thank you very much for your thoughts on this. This is a really important, and I think, probably, under-recognized issue for a lot of young people.
Bernadette: I think clothing is very overlooked because people think, "Oh, that's money I don't need to spend," or, "It's just frivolous," but we get dressed every day, and I know from the people that I work with the impact that clothing can make on your confidence, which we talked about. Yeah, it definitely shouldn't be overlooked. It's, like, a secret edge that you can have.
Peter: Yeah, no doubt. No doubt. Well, I'm hoping that this discussion will help a number of young people and their parents potentially. If they wanted to find out any more about what you do. How would they go about that?
Bernadette: Well, I have a website. So, it's www.thatsmystyle.com.au. I share a lot of things on my Instagram page, tips and things, and I do quite a lot of ... I run workshops and public speak, so you can find out more about what I'm doing pretty much via my website.
Peter: Great. Fantastic, Bernadette.
Peter: Thank you. So, do you have any other final thoughts before we wrap up?
Bernadette: Look, just get out and give it a go. You know what? If you go for your first interview and you bomb out, just learn from that and turn up at the next one and learn from that last experience.
Don't give up. I remember going for my first jobs in the fashion industry, and I went for a lot of jobs. It's a tough industry. Don't let that confidence go away. Keep going after what you really want.
Yes, like what I've shared today, is an edge that you can have, but really know what you want and go after it. Yeah, I just ... You're at a such an exciting time of your life.
Peter: Wonderful, Bernadette. Thank you so much for your advice. It's been great talking with you.