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Exactly What To Wear For Your First Job Interview

Nicole Russo has helped style hundreds of men and women for their working life. Here’s her best advice for making a great first impression.

Exactly What To Wear For Your First Job Interview
[Photo: g-stockstudio/iStock]

If you’re a recent grad, the amount of prep for your first big job interview can be nerve-racking. And after studying up on the company and practicing potential answers to possible interview questions, what you are going to wear is probably low on your list. Your parent’s platitudes about dressing for the job you want are woefully nonspecific, and wearing the wrong thing can mean losing the job before you open your mouth.

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So we asked Nicole Russo, a personal stylist ‎who works with a number of clients in the tech industry in New York City, to tell us what a jobseeker can wear to an interview to nudge the odds–especially if their only previous experience is internships. She even selected a few images from Instagram to illustrate the looks she recommends.

Hacking The Snap Judgment

“Sometimes confidence is the biggest power move you have,” Russo says, thinking back to the time she landed her first styling gig with very little experience. In order to look the part, Russo says putting effort and care in your choice of clothing can signal confidence and assuredness as opposed to indifference. “Not knowing how to pull yourself together comes across as incompetent,” Russo says.

Fit, Fabrics, And Fabulousness

That’s why she recommends making sure that whatever you select fits really well, is clean, and not wrinkled. If possible, garments should be made of silk, wool, leather, or other natural fibers. If you lean toward vegan leather for bags and shoes, Russo advises to take a good look at the construction and make sure it’s quality. “Nothing in a bright color,” she cautions, “especially if it’s not finely made.” Overall, Russo suggests taking a good, hard look at all your accessories like belts, watches, or other jewelry. “If they look plastic to you, they probably look plastic to everyone,” she observes.

Color Coding

As for clothing colors, Russo says “keep it simple.” Black, gray, or navy are fail-safe choices. “You will never go wrong with a shirt or blouse in a classic color palette,” she points out. A 2014 study by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder bears this out. Interviewers associated positive personality traits with those colors.  For example, black signaled leadership, blue was for team players, and gray was associated with logic and analytical behavior. Bright colors should be avoided, as Russo says. A quarter of hiring managers associated orange with lack of professionalism.

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Changing Up Your Look

If you get called back for a second or third round of interviews, Russo says make sure you’re not repeating outfits exactly. “A lot of people worry they don’t have money,” to buy multiple ensembles. Russo suggests making sure you have two pairs of pants and three shirts to switch around. “Take advantage of sales and consignment shops,” she advises, where you can find better quality pieces at discount. “You want to feel like you are showing up as the same person with the same skills, but slightly different,” she says. Each appearance is an opportunity to “reveal another part of the onion,” Russo suggests.”People do pay attention to little details.”

Revealing Your Personality

Russo does recognize that a job in a creative environment might call for a splash of personality conveyed through sartorial choice. That’s why she loves leather jackets. “If you are a little overdressed, a leather jacket can calm it down,” she notes. If you’re too casual, a leather blazer can elevate the look. “It’s almost a year-round piece,” Russo asserts.

She also mentions that while it’s more appropriate for candidates to let a tattoo or piercings show in more creative workplaces, “Just think about your market,” she underscores. Finance and law have more buttoned-up cultures as a general rule.

“I don’t believe in hiding,” she says, especially as workplaces move toward more equality, openness, and self-expression. Rather than risk getting eliminated because of tribal tattoos,” Russo contends that candidates need to remember who and where they want to work. Given the wealth of information available about companies online, especially through social media, Russo says there’s no excuse for showing up to an interview in something that clashes with a company’s existing office culture.

Cracking The Office Dress Code

Russo has a little hack for figuring out what people in a company dress like before you get hired.”Find people who work there,” she advises, and search their social media for work-related events. Russo says it’s also helpful to search from hashtags. She once found one for a company holiday party on Instagram. “You got a taste of how everyone was dressing,” she says, “A Christmas party is the most risqué people ever get.”

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If you’re still unsure of what to wear, Russo suggests taking advantage of working with a store salesperson. They’re usually not on commission and just love to help, says Russo, recalling her own experience in that job. Above all, Russo says, err on the side of caution. “It’s just like a date. You want to put your best face forward and you don’t want to hide who you are,” she says. “With the best fit and fabric, you’ll feel your best.”

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a business journalist writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, commerce, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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