Interview Attire for the JMO to Business Transition

In a previous blog post, I wrote about professional communication, specifically verbal communication. Today’s blog post is about professional non-verbal communication, particularly business dress or attire for interviewing.

Roger Cameron writes in PCS to Corporate America, 3rd Ed., “Your physical appearance should imply that you are professional and competent and that you can get the job done. This does not mean you should look dull, but if you err, it should be on the side of being conservative versus highly fashionable. Remember that you are not trying to please your friends (I add spouse here) or the fashion experts but rather the people who make the hiring decisions. These individuals are usually older and conservative (at least in their business appearance), and care more about what you can accomplish than how good-looking you are.” (page 100, PCS, 3rd Ed.)

Too often, I hear male candidates say, “If I wear a dark suit with white shirt and a power tie, I will look like every other candidate.” First, you will not look like every other candidate. Ties come in all types of different conservative colors and patterns and as a result make the suit look very different. In fact, my C-B teammates probably do not even know that I often wear the same blue suit all four days at our Charlotte, NC Conferences. I change out my tie every day and it makes the suit look different. Second, and most importantly, you want your answers, competencies, accomplishments, stories, leadership style, problem solving methodologies, questions, and statements of interests to stand out and make the difference with the recruiter. In my 12 years of recruiting, no recruiter has ever said “Yes” to a candidate because of the great looking shirt, tie or suit. In fact, I have never even heard a recruiter provide a comment even close to, “I really liked his shirt or tie.” On the other hand, I have heard recruiters make negative comments and provide constructive feedback about shoes, ties or shirt style. I do not have 45+ years of experience like Roger Cameron does, but I 100% agree with his comments above. I also agree with the additional advice found in “Chapter 4: Physical Factors of Interviewing,” (PCS, 3rd Ed.), and I ask that you trust me on this.

For this blog post, I am going to focus on recent mistakes made by men and suggestions for avoiding them. Why start with men? Because I see more of the female JMOs getting the business dress correct and more mistakes from the men (I will follow up this blog post with one for women). For a complete list of suggestions, see “Chapter 4: Physical Factors of Interviewing,” (PCS, 3rd Ed.).

Let’s start at the bottom and move up.

SHOES: You need to wear leather soled shoes with suit pants because they are wool. Rubber soled shoes should only be worn with cotton pants or jeans. If you do not know what I am talking about, ask your shoe sales person – he or she will know. Stick with black or burgundy/wine/cordovan for your interviews. Too many candidates are now wearing the brown or chile colored shoes. The shoe sales people at some department stores will tell you the black or cordovan colors are out of style. They are not! Just open a Fortune Magazine issue and look at pictures of some of the executives. They are in style for interviewing/professional dress. Brown and chile colors are a dress “down” color and come in many of shades. I do not recommend them for your first pair of shoes to build your business wardrobe. When you are in your job and you get your second pair, yes, go get those – but not for your interviews.

SUIT: For your first one or two suits, I highly recommend blue or dark grey. I am seeing more and more candidates wearing light grey or suits that have a sheen to them. I also recommend you stick with a 2- or 3- button suit with a single vent (that’s on the back of the coat). For your pants, the popular style right now is flat front with no cuffs. The problem is that, while it is a current fashion, it does not look good on all people. For your first suits, I highly recommend pleated pants, with a full break at the bottom, and cuffed. The full break has to do with the way the pants hit your shoes and “break”. In my first two suits, I had half breaks, but after they were cleaned a few times they became more like “quarter breaks”. From now on, I get full breaks.

SHIRTS: Just stick with the basic white shirt and you are safe. I am seeing more candidates wearing light blue shirts during their interviews. Light blue projects an image of soft, comforting, and warm. Those are good feelings, but not one you want to give off for an interview. I am adamant about the white shirt for interviews. You can get great looking white shirts that are wrinkle resistant at Brooks’ Brothers, Jos. A Bank, Paul Fredrick (online only), Land’s End and many department stores. Since Roger wrote PCS 3rd. Ed., we have the travelers/wrinkle resistant material now. This is where I deviate from PCS, and I think Roger would be okay with it. Also, you do not have to get the button down collar anymore; straight or pinpoint work well.

TIES: Choose power ties in red, yellow, light blue, certain shades of green, etc. with conservative patterns or a club stripe style. The tie is a place in your attire where you can stand out a bit with “your style”. Just don’t get crazy. I once had a candidate’s spouse tell him to go put on his smiley face tie for his interview with Wal-Mart. That was back when Wal-Mart’s brand was using the yellow smiley face. Luckily I heard her and put a stop to it. By the way, he did end up going to work for Wal-Mart. Maybe he wore it in the follow up interview?

This post is not meant to be an all-inclusive dress recommendation, but rather to address some of the issues I am seeing. It is pointless to reduce your effectiveness in an interview due to uninformed wardrobe choices. Instead, follow these guidelines, and go to Chapter 4 in PCS to Corporate America for more in-depth recommendations. Even though PCS was published in 2000, these recommendations for initial and follow up interviews remain timeless.

Joel Junker