Ask An Adult: Does It Really Matter What I Wear To A Job Interview?

You make a subconscious judgement about a person within 30 seconds of an initial viewing. So, short answer: yes.


by Morwenna Ferrier |
Published on

Your CV is spellchecked. Your cover letter, poetry. Your route from home Citymapped with half an hour to spare. You’ve never been more prepared for an interview. Except for one thing – what the hell do you wear? And does it matter?

Silly question – of course it does. First impressions – be it with the in-laws, a date or a job interview – can make or break. So much so that, according to American life coach, Brenda Ferguson Hodges, the first 30 seconds are absolutely ‘key’ to your success because it’s the moment your potential boss will ‘visualise’ you in the role. Gemma Bell, who runs one of the most successful restaurant PR companies in the UK, agrees on the importance of first impressions: ‘if it's a job they really want they'll put in the effort,’ she says. PR is both client-driven, meaning appearances ‘are very important.’

It sounds crazy but according to NY life coach, Mark Strong, one in five of us get it wrong. ‘Some dress on the dumpy or casual side, while others are too made up’. Yep. It’s a minefield.

The first thing to do is research – find out about the company style (either through a potential colleague or mole). Turn up dressed too informally, and it'll suggest you're not taking the interviewer seriously or that you don't care about the job. Dress too formally, though, and you may sell yourself short. We suggest bringing a smart jacket that you can slip on or off, accordingly.

Nicole Williams, a career expert at LinkedIn, suggests a ‘power outfit’ – you know, something you wheel out on every interview occasion that you keep dry-cleaned and moth proof. For Gemma (who knows about the importance of good PR, be it a company’s or your own) that’s a ‘sassy black dress and killer heels’. Simple. Smart. Foolproof.

Kate Taylor is involved in several interviews a year at She’s also Match’s Relationship Expert so knows a thing or two about first appearances, be it on a date or with your new boss. ‘Clothes are vitally important. If you don't feel like you look good, then it's impossible to bring your best game to the interview’. However, if you’re struggling to whittle down your choices, she suggests you focus on ‘feeling comfortable’.

She advocates dressing like you’re on a date. To wit: ever tried wearing a new dress on a first date only to find it rides up when you sit down? ‘Your body language becomes self-conscious and withdrawn, and you’re less likely to take risks or be outgoing.’

She also suggests dressing in your ‘best’ colour. ‘You don’t have to stick to black – we’ve found that blue is the colour most likely to inspire feelings of trust in other people.’ For Kate, a wrap dress a la Diane von Furstenberg, usually does the trick. If only because you can tighten or loosen the wrap.

Branding expert Karen Haller agrees that colour is a good idea – not least because it creates a strong first impression. ‘People make a subconscious judgement about a person… within 90 seconds of initial viewing, and up to 85 per cent of that assessment is based on colour alone. This is because our brain registers colour first.

‘Every time you select a colour to wear you are making a statement about how you are feeling and how you want others to interact with you. Colour is emotion and you are making an emotional connection. Wear colours that support how you want to feel – that might be authoritative, good communicator, calm, nurturing and kind, playful and fun.’

Gemma thinks it’s harder for women to look smart than men because there’s more room for error. Choice is a double-edged sword and this sucks. Kate, however, disagrees: ‘little details like manicured nails, well-cut hair and tidy eyebrows immediately help to present a professional image.’

If that’s impossible, stick to Gemma’s simple rules: ‘avoid anything too short, too low cut or bad footwear’. See? Interviews – just like first dates. Doesn’t that make it all so much clearer?

For more great work tips, check out for straight-talking careers advice

Follow Morwenna on Twitter @morwennastar

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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