Dress for the Job You Want . . .

Dress for the Job You Want . . .

We have all heard the phrase “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” It has been repeated to new hires, college students, people interviewing and individuals being coached for a promotion. Strangely enough this phrase is still ignored and can ruin a job interview or send a manager running to HR for help on delivering a difficult message.

Being in HR for years and working with entry-level hires for the majority of it, I’ve had many awkward conversations with people about their dress attire. My favorite one so far is telling a woman wearing a Bermuda-short suit that it wasn’t appropriate to wear to a job on Wall Street. “When was the last time you saw a man walking around the office in a suit with shorts? So why would we think that it would be okay for a woman to wear shorts in the office?”

But I was not always an angel when it came to following the dress code rules. When I was a summer analyst at Merrill Lynch, I remember wearing these modest (yet painfully ugly) mules to the office one day. The dress code at Merrill Lynch specifically said no open-toe shoes, but I always saw women walking around the office in strappy sandals or peep-toe shoes. I decided one day to wear those mules to the office when I blindly thought they would look fashionable with my skirt and button-down.  Within 10 minutes of being in the office, the second year analyst on the team shouted down the hall to me “Look at you, breaking the dress code policy rules as an intern!” My face lit up like a Christmas tree and remained that shameful, scarlet shade the rest of the day.

I could rattle off 100 tips for dressing the part, but I’ll keep it to 5 simple tips:

  1. Stick with the right color – and keep it neutral. CareerBuilder does a study every year of the most powerful colors to wear. Always at the top of the list are black, navy blue, and gray. Always at the bottom of the list are yellow, orange and purple.
  1. Know your industry. If you work in a creative industry, don’t show up to work everyday in a business suit to dress for the part you want. Incorporate some creativity into your wardrobe. If you work in a more conservative industry such as financial services, don’t show up to work or a job interview with blue nail polish.
  1. Look at what your mentors and leaders in the office are wearing.No matter what type of work environment you are in (business attire, business casual or casual) always look at what your mentors are wearing or the senior people in the organization. They are setting the example for you. If I had looked to my mentors when I was a summer analyst, I would have never worn those open-toed shoes.
  1. Wear clothes that fit you well. This works for both genders. Make sure you wear pants and a jacket that fit YOU – not your dad or the image of you 5 pounds ago. If your suit is too big, you may look like Tom Hank’s character at the end of the movie Big.


For the women, watch your hemline. And your neckline. And the tightness of your clothes. You want to be remembered for what say and how you operate in the office. Not for being the “girl with the short skirts” or the “low-cut tops”. We’ve seen this too many times. When was the last time you saw Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer or Sallie Krawcheck wearing a short skirt or dress? Never.

  1. Keep it clean. For you, this means showering and having a professional appearance free of tattoos, body piercings, etc. For your clothes, this means wrinkle-free and stain-free. If you follow me on Twitter (@career_univ), I did a #tbt this past week from one of my favorite Super Bowl commercials. Like having food in your teeth, a stain on your shirt can be just as distracting. Coming from the person who always spills coffee or food on herself, I always have to be armed with a shout-wipe or tide-pen at all times.

Tweet_Tide Pen

Your clothes shouldn’t be a distraction from who you are professionally and the impression you want to others to have of you. Lastly, if you have clothes that don’t fit anymore or that you no longer need, pay it forward and look to donate them to someone that could use them. Dress for Success and Career Gear are two examples of organizations that accept donations.

Happy Dressing!

#dressforsuccess  #jobperformance #interviewing

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