We recruiters. Oh, the stories we have. One of my favorites (which, let me assure you, was not a favorite at the time) is the one in which my client—a corporate HR manager—called to tell me how my candidate had just done in the interview. I was anticipating a glowing review.
Here is what I got instead:
“We just don’t know what to make of this: He came in wearing a large cowboy hat. It was very unexpected. I invited him to store it in our coat closet while he met with various people, and he flat out refused. Said he never takes the thing off. We didn’t push it.”
They didn’t push it. They also didn’t hire him. It seems the folks at this North American HQ of a global automation company were so rattled by my candidate’s hat—and stance—that he was toast pretty much before conversations began.
It’s not fair, right? Well, maybe. The sooner you realize that your appearance speaks paragraphs about yourself before a word comes out of your mouth at an interview, the better equipped you will be to make those paragraphs work to your advantage.
What, then, should you absolutely, positively never show up to an interview in or with? Here are five faux pas to steer clear of.
1. You’re Wearing Clothing Made by—or Emblazoned With—the Logo of the Competition
This one seems obvious, but apparently it isn’t. Living in Portland, Oregon, I have plenty of pals who work at Nike’s world headquarters. You’d be shocked by the number of candidates who stroll into an interview (at their “athletic casual” offices) wearing Adidas shoes or Under Armour t-shirts. In many companies, these displays are the apparel equivalent of “fightin’ words.” Avoid at all costs.
In fact, avoid any logos on your interview outfit. Keep it simple—and chic or trendy or buttoned-up or low-key or whatever other word best describes the company culture.
2. You’re Wearing Clothing That Doesn’t Fit in With the Company Culture
Speaking of company culture, it’s important to dress like you understand it. If you step into a manufacturing plant looking like you’re ready for Wall Street, you’re more than likely going to stick out like a sore thumb. Likewise, if a conservative corporation suggests “business casual,” they probably do not mean “come in jeans.”
Part of the reason you get a job offer is because your future colleagues feel like you’re going to fit in around the joint (i.e., be fun to work next to and go to happy hour with). Best to study what their people wear, and go one notch up—not 15. When in doubt, simply ask the person coordinating the interview for guidance. (Or, check out our guide to stalking a company’s social media profiles to pick out the perfect interview outfit.)
3. You’re Wearing Something That Makes You Look Like You Barely Tried
This is a catch-all category that includes wrinkled shirts, stained pants, scuffed-up shoes, a belt that’s seen its better days, an unshaven face, hosiery with snags, or something that fit you five years ago, before you gained (or lost) those 20 pounds. People hire people who care. Look like you care. It’s as easy as taking out the iron the night before. After all, your interviewer is taking time out of his or her day to speak with you; the least you can do is look put together.
4. You’re Wearing a Pile of Perfume (or, Worse, Zero Deodorant)
You’re there to impress upon your audience that you can do this job, that you’re likable, and that you’ll be a great addition to the team. You are not there to seduce your future boss with your love potion, nor should your calling card be Eau de Locker Room. Make sure to keep your scent light and your deodorant game strong.
5. You’re Carrying Around a Negative Attitude or Bad Vibe
Are you someone who wears her emotions on her sleeve? Well, if your emotions include anger, annoyance, pessimism, anxiety, or panic, consider taking some deep breaths before you walk in the doors. No one owes you a job, nor will they likely select you over the competition if you walk in with a noticeable chip.
In some ways, interviews are like being in show biz. When it’s time to hit the stage, you’ve got to be ready to perform. If freezing up and making a bad first impression is a common problem when you interview (even though you’re usually awesome), read up on ways to boost your confidence before you walk in the door.
And for sure, unless you’re vying for a job as a ranch hand or country music roadie, leave the cowboy hat at home.