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Personal Appearance for Women

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Some people have been hired, or rejected, largely on the basis of the impression they made when they walked through the door into an interview. Personal appearance is a subtle but very powerful weapon in any social or business situation and especially in a job interview. Rightly or wrongly, you are judged first and foremost by your wardrobe. Certain clothing styles, colors, fabrics, and accessories create specific, automatic impressions in the viewer’s mind, both conscious and subconscious. If these impressions are desirable, then it is a simple matter to reinforce them during the course of the interview through your conversation and mannerisms.

If these impressions are undesirable, then there is not enough time in an interview to correct the damage already done. A person’s wardrobe is perceived as an unofficial but accurate barometer of where he or she stands on the ladder of success and thereby implies the corresponding level of capability, competence, and respect. For example, if you were introduced to two men of similar appearance, except that one wore a suit and the other a sport coat, after having been told that one man is the president of a bank and the other a teller, which man would you suspect to be the president? Probably you would pick the man in the suit. Why? Because the man in the suit looked more successful. In the same vein, a man in a suit will tend to get better service in a restaurant than a man in jeans and sport shirt. Why? Because the man in the suit commands more respect. Finally, some styles and colors of Ties are more effective than others, and a man in an "effective’’ suit interview better than a man in a sport coat or an "ineffective" suit. Why? Because he will be perceived as more competent and successful because of the favorable image produced by his clothing.

The image you want to project in a job interview is one of professionalism, confidence, and success. A major portion of this image is created by your wardrobe. Such an image can be very effective. In fact, if you did nothing but simply present a professional and successful personal appearance, you could improve your interview effectiveness by up to 250 percent.

The authority on this subject is John Molloy, who wrote Dress for Success in two versions, one for men and one for women. His twenty years of scientific research shows that certainly major, and sometimes only minor, differences in an individual's wardrobe can substantially affect that person s probability of success in any face-to-face situation. The job interview is a superb environment to capitalize on the advantage that can be obtained by creating a successful and professional image through proper wardrobe se lection.

As an example, one of my associates once arranged a series of interviews for an engineer who had superb technical qualifications but who also had simply dreadful interview skills. He was arrogant, overbearing, sloppy, and rude. He went through six straight interviews with six different companies without even a hint of a job offer despite the fact that his technical skills were very much in demand. Finally, my associate was able to convince him to wear a three-piece suit to his interviews instead of his customary careless attire.

That very next job interview produced a good job offer, and the next interview after that produced an even better job offer. The engineer’s remark after the first offer-producing interview accurately sums up the effectiveness of proper personal appearance: To think that a three-piece suit did this for me.'' Believe me, if a relatively simple improvement in personal appearance could overcome this engineer's interviewing faults, then the same measure of improvement would be of immense value to the average job hunter.

Guidelines for Women

The guidelines for women are less stringent than for men. Men have a more universally accepted dress code. The successful male executive is more stereotyped than the female, possibly because business has long been dominated by men, although this is fortunately changing. More people recognize, consciously or unconsciously, what the successful male executive should look like. Women have less consensus and more alternatives: conservative dresses, skirts and blouses, pant suits, slacks and blouse, dresses or skirts and blazers, skirted suits, and others. However, wardrobe is even more important for a woman than a man because she has more barriers to surmount and fewer reliable sources of information on which to base her wardrobe selection. John Molloy, in the Woman's Dress for Success Book, details some very specific guidelines based on scientific research. Yet many other influential and authoritative spokespersons, both men and women, disagree with Molloy's findings and advise that women should wear what feels comfortable, intimating that women's "executive'' fashion is just another passing fad. However, the telling guideline in job interviewing, as with business in general, is image and effectiveness, not tradition or fashion or comfort or habit. Accordingly, there are some rules that women can follow to obtain in the job interview the same executive image advantage as men.

Always wear a skirt with coordinated jacket. Much as the senior executive wears a suit to differentiate himself from the mail room clerks in their sport coats or shirt sleeves, so does the woman executive (or executive-to-be) separate herself from the typing pool. Also, in both cases the jacket is the capstone of power and authority. Once the man removes his jacket, he lowers his perceived level of authority. Once the woman removes her jacket, she increases her chances of being asked to take a typing test, such is the power of wardrobe. Subtle changes can cause significant differences in image. That is why what you wear to an interview, man or woman, is an important and critical factor in your ultimate effectiveness.

Always wear quality suit ensembles in medium to dark shades of blue or gray. Not surprisingly, since business is still dominated by men and their stereotypes, the colors that generally will work best for a woman in job interviewing are the same ones that work well for men, medium to dark shades of blue and gray. Suits should be of natural fabrics, preferably wool. Blouses should be conservative and in white, pale blue, or sometimes pale yellow, when appropriate,

Always carry a briefcase if you are seeking anything higher than a clerical position. The briefcase is the badge of the executive. Any woman who is serious about her career will always carry one, especially to a job interview, even if it is empty. Secretaries and clerks do not carry briefcases. Therefore, when you do carry one, you are signaling to the world that you are an executive, or shortly will be. Select a briefcase of simple design in dark brown leather.

Select your wardrobe, hairstyle, and accessories to be conservative and businesslike, not sexy. The sexier a woman is in an interview, the more distracting she will be to the interviewer (whether man or woman) and, as a result, the less effective. Although she will be selling herself, she will be emphasizing the wrong aspect. Sexy women may get lots of offers, but few of them will be for a new job or a promotion. Therefore, do not wear short skirts; slit skirts, plunging necklines, hair longer than shoulder length, very curly or wavy hair, excessive jewelry, or strong perfume. Be sexy after work, not on the job, and never in a job interview.
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