Dressing for success: presenting your best self in interviews

With the summer internship and job search in full swing at South Dakota State University, students are trading sweats for suits to impress potential employers. 

What you wear matters. Within the first 10 seconds of meeting your interviewer — otherwise known as the ‘meet-and-greet’ — that person has decided whether or not you’re right for the job, according to a study by Frank Bernieri, an associate professor of psychology at Oregon State University

“In fashion, or what you wear in general, is a large nonverbal communicator,” said sophomore apparel merchandising major Kara Trenhaile. 

If you dress appropriately, you will be less focused on how you look and more focused on how to answer the interviewer’s questions, Trenhaile said.

Chris Kotschevar, junior pharmacy major, said he dresses up for every interview — phone or face-to-face — because of the confidence it gives him.

“There’s never such a thing as dressing up too much,” Kotschevar said. “It shows commitment.”

Here are tips on how to dress for success during your job hunt:


Back to basics

It’s important to keep your outfit simple, said Susan Fredrikson, career development specialist at the Center for Student Engagement.

“Generally speaking, you want to stay on the conservative side and keep it simple, so the interviewer isn’t distracted from what you’re saying,” Fredrikson said.

Trenhaile and Fredrikson agree wearing solid colors is the best way to go. They recommend staying away from too many patterns because it doesn’t look as put-together. 

 The safest color to wear is black, Trenhaile said.

“It’s a serious color,” she said. “Black is known for its professionalism and sophistication.”

Kotschevar echoed these comments.

“Dark colors communicate professionalism. If you don’t like black, always go with a dark color like charcoal or navy,” Kotschevar said.

When in doubt, don’t

There is a list of no-no’s when interviewing. No short pants or skirt, no open-toed shoes or low-cut tops and say no to ill-fitting clothes and cargo pants. And don’t wear leggings or anything too sheer, Fredrikson said.

“For students — especially when they think of dressing up — they don’t do it often, so they may misconstrue it to party dress-up,” Fredrikson said. “If you want to do something really different to stand out, you have to be careful.”

Fredrikson urges everyone to dress for the position they want and look put-together. 

“If you’re questioning if it is appropriate, it’s probably not,” Trenhaile said.

Kotschevar suggested a trial run, trying on different clothing and asking for a second opinion to see what looks best.

“Ask for help,” Kotschevar said. “Go to the store and ask workers there. Don’t be afraid to try a lot of things, too.”

It’s OK to splurge 

To find inspiration for outfits, Trenhaile looks through Pinterest and Instagram. Sometimes, though, those items can be expensive.

The price of professional clothes can be daunting, but worth it, according to Fredrikson.

“College students are done growing, so they will be able to wear clothing for a few years,” Fredrikson said.

Fredrikson said it is possible to find professional wear at consignment stores as well.

Do your homework

Each industry has slightly different rules for dress. Some pieces that could work for an interview with a summer camp, may not work in an interview with a law firm. 

Each company will have its own dress culture, Kotschevar said. When considering what to wear, Kotschevar suggests contacting someone in the field, or asking professors.

“The Career Center on campus has a good grasp of what employers look for, too,” Kotschevar said. 

You’re never fully dressed without a smile

No matter what you’re wearing to an interview, it’s important to “wear something that makes you feel good,” Kotschevar said.






**This story was edited with a name correction on 3/24/17 at 8:37 PM