Your dream company just called–you have an interview at 9 a.m. on Friday.

You did it! Years in school, giving up summer beach weather for internships, doing every vague task your boss threw at you (with a smile), pouring over your resume for the 200th time, hours polishing your LinkedIn profile. It was all worth it, because they called.

This is it. Your moment to make your first impression. You may have three days until the interview, but once you walk in that door, you have seven seconds. If that sounds frightening, research shows people start summing you up in 1/10th of a second, and after that their opinion doesn’t change drastically.

How you look will be one of the first things an employer sees, so you need to understand the different dress codes. In general terms:

Casual is what you wear to school and hang out with your friends—think jeans, t-shirt, trendy top.

Smart Casual is relaxed, but dialed up a notch—khakis, fancy jeans, buttoned shirt or blouse, nice boots, informal jacket or blazer.

Business Casual is how many offices dress daily—pencil skirt, nice slacks, blouse or button-down shirt, maybe a tie, but not a suit.

Business Professional is what you would expect to see in a more formal office. While dress standards vary by industry, for an interview, business professional dress is key to crushing that first impression. Here’s how:

  1. The Outfit


Photos courtesy of

Business Professional for Men:

      • Suit – ideal colors are solid navy or black
      • Button-down shirt – crisp collar in white or conservative colors
      • Tie – classy silk in a color that compliments the suit and shirt; keep the pattern subtle
      • Close-toed dress shoes—coordinate to the suit

Business Professional for Women:

      • Pant suit, dress suit, or pencil skirt in neutral colors

Length: No cropped pants and skirts should be straight—not flowy. Keep skirt or dress length no shorter than two inches above the knee, so you can sit comfortably and stay covered

      • Blouse or button-down tailored shirt—white or subtle color
      • Style: current, but not too trendy
      • Shoes – close-toed shoes with 2-inch heel

2. The Accessories


    Photos courtesy of

    Business Professional for Men:

        • Leather belt to match shoes
        • Keep jewelry to a watch and leave the pooka shells from Maui at home
        • Remove piercings; if you get the job, you can reassess, but plan for a conservative interviewer

    Business Professional for Women:

        • Keep jewelry simple and subtle—post earrings and classic necklace

    Avoid bling—you don’t want your prospective boss so distracted by your jingling bracelets that she misses hearing about your impressive internship

        • A tasteful pop of color in a scarf, belt or shoe to soften an outfit may be appropriate to not look like you are going to a funeral, but keep it simple
        • A smart, stylish bag can finish off the look nicely

    3. The Hair & Make-up

    Photos courtesy of

    Business Professional for Men:

        • Clean, neat hairstyle. Freshly cut, not too trendy—go easy on the gel
        • Clean shaven or neatly trimmed beard
        • Avoid cologne. It can aggravate people’s allergies

    Business Professional for Women:

        • Clean, neat, not over-curled or ornate braiding—this is business, not the prom
        • Long hair: straight or stylish waves and out of your face

    I once heard an employer say that he couldn’t hear a thing an interviewee was saying, because he couldn’t stop watching her long, dangling bangs wafting with each word she spoke.

        • Make-up should be natural-looking, not overdone
        • No perfume.

    Bottom line? Fewer offices dress business professional for everyday work, but interviews are different. They are a first impression. Overall, you are going for a look that will, in a split second, instill confidence, competence and trust. Oh, and professional dress is not just for the interviewer. You will feel more confident when you take the time to present a polished version of yourself.

    With one last smile, you shake hands, thank your prospective employer for their time and walk out relieved, but taller, because you nailed it.

    “A recent study shows that people who dress better have more confidence, feel more powerful, and are more focused on details. More importantly, people perceive well-dressed people as leaders, and go to them for support at a faster rate than those not as well dressed.”

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