Why “Dress for the Job You Want” Is Bad Interview Advice

Posted: 02/23/15 | Category: Interviewing

"Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." The adage has been permeating the business world for years. If we sit back and dissect it for what it is, we soon realize the sheer quantity of different occupations in the world and how the message is not as objective as it seems at first glance. From blue collar to white collar to STEM roles, the appropriate level of dress varies greatly.

One of the greatest factors that affect clothing restrictions and expectations can be the environment in which you are working/want to work. Take working on the floor of a manufacturing plant: loose-fitting clothing or a nice, tailored suit are imprudent -- and highly dangerous -- to wear while working with heavy machinery. Instead, you would opt for casual clothing, allowing for the freedom of movement necessary to complete tasks without being too loose to endanger yourself.

Another factor to consider is the role itself -- what will you be doing? Maybe you are interviewing to be a police officer or be accepted into the academy. If we take the adage at face value for the aforementioned scenario, we might not want to follow the instructions to "dress for the job you want" while going into an interview. In fact, walking into a law-enforcement interview while ‘dressed for the part’ could land you in jail for impersonating a police officer. That's probably not going to get you the job.

The previous examples are on the extreme end of the spectrum, but do well to illustrate the easy misinterpretation of this adage. Instead, a great rule of thumb is to dress as if going to a business meeting or press conference, where appearance matters and is subject to scrutiny.

Business meetings and press conferences are arranged to accomplish a certain goal, reach a particular decision, or evaluate a situation. Oftentimes, important business meetings -- in particular in-person sales meetings -- include the presence of key organizational players/decision makers who control the future of the company. As a decision-maker of a company, would you be more apt to listen to the message of a well-dressed, confident salesperson or one dressed in wrinkled, ill-fitting, distracting clothes? A messy or over-the-top appearance can sabotage even the most well-rehearsed, well-written, impassioned message.

By envisioning yourself in a business meeting, you set expectations for dress and persona: speak confidently and clearly as a subject matter expert, and dress the part to make the best impression and establish your credibility. See yourself as a salesman pitching your product (you) to a prospective client (employer) in hopes of making a sale (getting the job). After all, “You only get one chance to make a first impression!”

by Kendall Bolden

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