By Julie Battaglia
First Impressions are Everything, Especially in Business
The last thing a broke college kid wants to hear is “It’s time to invest in a good interview suit.” Many young professionals believe they know all the keys to assembling an acceptable interview outfit, when in fact they are completely wrong. Hopefully after viewing this you will not fall victim to an embarrassing interview moment.
Since women started working in the office, several changes have occurred. No longer must a woman’s professional dress mirror her male colleagues. Be careful to remember that business clothing is not a reflection of the latest fashion trend.
The best place to start is with a skirted suit or pant suit. Skirts should be knee-length or slightly above or below. Avoid extremes. A skirt more than two inches above the knee raises eyebrows and questions. Some wonder if a dress is appropriate; dresses do not offer the same credibility unless they are accompanied by matching jackets. Pants should break at the top of the foot or shoe and should not be cropped or shortened. Unfortunately this means Capri pants are unprofessional.
Blouses and sweaters provide color and variety to women’s clothing, but should be appealing rather than revealing. Inappropriate necklines and waistlines can give the wrong impression.
Neutral or flesh-tone stockings are the best choice. Never wear dark hose with light-colored clothing or shoes. Keep an extra pair of stockings in your desk drawer. Shoes should be of sensible height; wedges are most comfortable. A closed toe is the best option before May, in Ohio at least. A low heel is more professional than flats or high heels. Sandals, open-toed or backless shoes are not office attire.
When it comes to accessories and jewelry, keep it simple: one ring per hand, one earring per ear. Facial piercings must be removed. Accessories should reflect your personality, not diminish your credibility. Buy a watch, a cheap one tells the same time as an expensive one. It is considered rude to constantly check your phone for the time. A bag, large enough for a folder or laptop and include all essentials for possible emergencies throughout the day (extra pens, medicine, phone charger, etc.).
It’s about presenting yourself in a way that makes your clients feel comfortable and confident in you. Dressing for success is still the rule. The professional businessman should keep in mind these few points when deciding what to wear to work.
Choose a conservative suit in navy, black or gray either pinstripe or solid. Gray suits are easy to match with black or brown shoes and look great with a variety of colored shirts. The quality of the material speaks as loudly as the color and can make the difference between sleaze and suave.
Ties should be made of silk or a silk-like fabric. Avoid the cartoon characters and go for simple and subtle if you want to enhance your credibility. Wear a pocket square. Pocket squares have been worn with suits ever since the beginning of the 20th century and are still fashionable. It makes you stand out.
Socks should be calf-length or above. Make sure they match not only what you are wearing, but also each other. A quick glance in good light before heading out the door can save embarrassment later in the day. Check for holes as well if you’ll be going through airport security and removing your shoes.
Shoes should without question be conservative, clean and well polished. Lace-up shoes are the choice over slip-ons.. Many people will look at your feet before your face. Try a brown shoe. Black leather shoes are nice but having a brown shoe with a carefully matched brown belt will help you to stand out.
Belts need to match or closely coordinate with your shoes. Once again, quality counts. Keep jewelry to a minimum. Limit yourself to a conservative watch, a wedding band and maybe your college ring. Freshly scrubbed wins out over heavily fragranced any day of the week. Always remember to shave.
The finishing touch for the business man is his choice of accessories: briefcase, portfolio and pen. Keep in mind that a messenger bag over a briefcase can again help you to stand out over others. Just make sure the bag is stylish and business appropriate.
Pack a decent folder with business cards, resumes, notes for your thirty-second about me speech, agenda, etc. When buying business attire remember to find things that are considered classic. This means they will not immediately go out of style and use accessories or jewelry to dress up. Buy clothes that fit. Clothes from high school usually do not still fit. For women many sizes change with seasons or from year to year. Buy clothes big enough to be comfortable and feel good. Yes, many of us are broke, but finding something you look good in and invest in it is very important. Quality over quantity always prevails.
Lastly, do not forget about manners. It may sound silly but having professional manners can rocket your career without you even knowing it. Some common mistakes are highlighted below.
Mistake #1: Show up late and think it doesn’t matter. Anticipate getting lost, getting stuck in traffic or spending 10 minutes looking for parking. Time is money and the person interviewing you has set aside a period of time for you. You’ve just wasted his/her time and that’s a bad thing. It also plants the seed in his/her head that you are someone who doesn’t plan for contingencies and are likely to be consistently late for work if he hires you.
Mistake #2: Keep your cell phone on so he/she knows just how important you are. Turn off your cell phone — altogether — before entering the door to that office. You only have a brief window of time with your interviewer, and you want to make sure that you have no interruptions that might break the interviewer’s concentration. It shows how important this job interview is to you.
Mistake # 3: Offering a limp handshake. People who do this are generally intimidated by the situation. Don’t be that person. Extend your right hand in vertical position with the thumb upright and fingers extended. Shake web to web firmly. Don’t squeeze so hard that a trip to the ER becomes necessary. Shake with two pumps, then release. Also, wait for the interviewer to extend his hand first. If the interviewer is seated at the desk when you enter the room, wait for her/him to rise and walk around the desk to greet you. You don’t want to invade the interviewer’s personal space.
Mistake #4: Chat up a storm. When nervous, there’s a tendency to verbally rush in and fill the silence.. The key to being a good conversationalist is to listen and ask thoughtful questions. Do your research beforehand.
Mistake #5: Don’t slouch. Stand up straight. People who stand with erect shoulders make a better impression.
Mistake #6:. Do not act too familiar with the interviewer. Maintain a professional distance and do not get too personal. Avoid nosy questions.
Mistake #7: Ignore body language. Actually, you give a lot away by how you sit. Gaché says to keep your arms and legs uncrossed and be aware of excessive fidgeting. No foot tapping, hair twirling or nail biting. Crossed limbs signal that you are on the defensive and uncomfortable. Women should sit with ankles crossed and angled toward the right. Place your left hand on your left thigh and your right hand on top of that. Hand gestures are wonderful, if kept in proportion. Never flail. For men, feet and knees are shoulder-width apart and hands are on top of the thighs near the knees.
Mistake #8: Remaining too serious. In fact, you should smile a lot. The job market right now is cut-throat competition and even if you are feeling discouraged, put on your happy face and “fake it until you make it”. There is nothing worse than a bad attitude; leave your personal baggage at home. Nobody wants to hire a Debbie Downer.
Mistake #9: Let the employer know just how entitled you are to this position. Leave your sense of entitlement at home.
Mistake #10: You may think snail mail thank-you notes went out of style like eight-track tapes. Send a handwritten, snail-mail thank-you note. Writing a thank-you note demonstrates professionalism. You’ll stand out because most other applicants won’t bother. You can also add a comment or insight that you forgot during the interview. And writing a thank-you note gives you another opportunity to restate your interest in the position. Saying thank you leaves a strong and positive impression.
Mistake # 11: Treat an interview over a meal as if you were dining with your pals. Meal interviews are standard operating procedure for a lot of jobs in high-end sales. It is a chance for the boss to observe your public behavior. It’s important to treat wait staff with respect. Don’t order messy pasta or a big plate of beef ribs. Absolutely do not order alcohol unless your host does first. Even then, it still may be a test. Business shouldn’t be discussed until your host brings it up, generally after the meal.
Julie Battaglia is a senior applied communication major and practicum student in the Dean’s Office of the College of Communication and Information.