Dress for Success: How to fit in so you stand out

As corporate casual becomes the corporate norm, understanding how to dress for an interview has become a daunting task.  No longer can we reach into our closet and pull out the standard black suit.  Instead, we are faced with the reality of guessing what type of dress code that super cool internet start-up enforces and if that PR firm is conservative enough to require a cardigan over your cap-sleeve blouse.

One of my biggest interview fears is that I won’t be dressed the part.  This may seem like a silly fear, after all we are not models we are serious business associates looking to negotiate our place in the workforce; however, whether we like to admit it or not, your presentation is a major part of a first impression.  Suits are a great way to appear professional, but if no one in the office is wearing a suit, you shouldn’t be either!

This leads me to an interesting piece of advice offered to me by a professor during my graduate career.  Dr. Ingrid Fray has been a big hitter in the business community for quite some time.  She has worked in the not for profit sector, at Phillip Morris, and at Estee Lauder.  Every one of these unique corporate cultures featured a different style of dress.  According to Dr. Fray, this style should affect your outfit choice for an interview.

Why?  Because besides wowing your prospective employer with excellent credentials and experiences, you want the interviewer to be able to visualize you as a part of the team.  Every corporation has a culture and its employees are responsible for perpetuating it.  Your goal is to have the interviewer see you and your resume and instantly envision you walking the office halls.

But how do you know what the company’s dress code is?  Dr. Fray’s method is a bit unorthodox, but it gets you right to the source!  Consider taking a trip to the firm’s office several days prior to your interview.  If the company is housed in a large building, scope out those coming and going in the lobby.  If not, spend some time in the area.  Grab coffee and people watch (discreetly)!  This can help to give you a well-rounded idea of what is fashionably acceptable in that particular workplace.

Apply this new knowledge while you pick your interview outfit.  Use your judgment to gauge the professional impact of your choices (even though a suit may be too over-the-top, you should not interview in jeans and a t-shirt!).   A little extra effort can go a very long way!