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The Attire during job interview makes a difference

published March 13, 2006

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<<A few days after the interview, the young woman called the partner to find out the firm had hired someone else.

"Was it the handshake?" asked the young woman, clueless that her unprofessional attire had cost her the job.

Stories like these are becoming increasingly common as casual attire becomes more and more casual. Sneakers are allowed at most elegant restaurants. Thrashed jeans are high fashion. It is common to find college kids sporting pajamas to class.

Wearing clothes too sexy or too sloppy in a work environment can be a serious career misstep. Any law school career services office will tell you to dress for success, but the sentiment seems trite to many young legal professionals. In the post-Britney Spears era, a growing number of entry-level attorneys say they wear what they want and the world can take it or leave it. This sort of fierce individualism is met with consternation from the business world.

In addition to the seemingly arbitrary designation of what is suitable to wear to work, women face a different sort of inequality when it comes to professional attire. Take the pantsuit, for example. Experts advise women to avoid the pantsuit in job interviews and encourage a business skirt instead. Some judges even bar female attorneys in pants from the courtroom. Why? The reasons are entrenched in the sexism of centuries bygone. The flipside of this dilemma is that wearing a too-short skirt can also land a professional woman in hot water.

A recent study by Professor Peter Glick of the University of Lawrence revealed that women who dress sexy in the workplace have greater difficulty climbing the corporate ladder than those who dress conservatively. If you don't believe wearing risqué clothing on the job can hinder advancement, consider the fate of Desiree Goodwin.

Goodwin, an assistant librarian at Harvard University with two master's degrees from Cornell University, alleges that her bosses passed her over for promotion 16 times because of her skimpy outfits. In a 2005 discrimination suit against her employers, she claimed her supervisor told her she was "seen merely as a pretty girl who wore sexy outfits, low-cut blouses, and tight pants."

A federal judge ruled in favor of Goodwin's bosses, and she was left with a bill for Harvard's legal fees.

Whether you agree with it or not, an employee's manner of dress is an integral part of how his/her performance is assessed by employers. During a job interview, when a prospective employee has only a few precious seconds to make a positive impression, clothes matter even more.

Experts offer numerous suggestions on how to best make a first impression on an employer. Keep jewelry to a minimum, wear wool-blends and avoid tube socks. While many of these rules seem random, it is tough to argue with results. Applicants who portray a neat, professional image are more likely to land the job than those who do not.

Men are to wear a dark navy or two-piece business suit with a white button-down shirt. A silk tie (red or yellow for a blue suit; green, black, or purple for a grey suit) is preferred. In the event of a callback interview, men are encouraged to buy a backup outfit. One expert advises men to use their age and experience to gauge how much to spend on job interview apparel. Multiply your age by your years of experience to determine the ideal retail price of new job interview clothes.

Women, as mentioned previously, are not to wear pantsuits to a job interview. Though the pantsuit may be more comfortable, better suited to colder climates, and generally accepted in most work environments, it apparently gives employers an impression of masculinity. Even if the interviewer is a female in a pantsuit, a sensible skirt and jacket combination is preferred. There is little logic to this rule, but many legal industry experts cling to it.

Makeup should be natural in appearance. Shoes should be closed-toe, and heels should be less than two inches. All naughty bits—including belly, back, breasts, and shoulders—should be concealed.

Other fashion rules are more of a matter of common sense. Exhibit good hygiene. Nobody wants to work with gross people. Never wear clothes with loud or outrageous patterns. Belts should match shoes. These are reasonable rules that should surprise no one.

The rest of the rules might not occur to the average job seeker. Take everything out of your pockets. Bosses hate unsightly bulges. Make sure your briefcase is color-coordinated with your suit. Bosses are easily distracted by briefcase/suit disparities. Laced shoes are better than loafers. Loafers make bosses think you will spend all day "loafing" around. These may sound like made-up rules, but they are actually part of most career counselors' job interview spiels.

It is beside the point to say that this is unfair. One must submit to the rules that govern the corporate world in order to partake in its riches. Of course, an important guideline that is often overlooked is to wear what is comfortable. Scratching and tugging at one's clothes throughout an interview hardly leaves a good impression. A balance between conservative and comfortable must be reached. Unfortunately, the what-to-wear scale generally tips to the conservative side. While not all law firms enforce strict dress codes, it is still better to err on the conservative side even in casual work environments.

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