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The Lost Art of Mastering a Great First Impression – Part II: To Dress or Not to Dress, That is the Question

Many companies have gone casual dress these days and it’s difficult to know just how to dress for an interview. I just had lunch with a former public company CEO who visited the senior management team of a company he’s recently interviewed with for a CEO spot, and found everyone to be business casual. He was dressed to the nines with his best suit, great shirt, and great power tie (remember that line?). Immediately he felt over dressed and said to the assembled masses, “If you all don’t mind, I’d like to shed the tie and get comfortable with everyone,” at which they all said please do and he was one of the team. The point though, is that he knows how to dress and I’m sure they felt confident he can do the part in representing them to investors and analysts. And, while he dressed down by losing the tie, he still looked like a million bucks. This is a simple thing to do if you don’t know what a company hiring manager expects of your dress in your first interview. While I know I’ll probably hear a few comments about this, my feeling has always been to overdress with a company interview, and you can always say something about it so they know you can don the khakis and golf shirts just like everyone else. I have heard from hiring execs that even though their company is casual, they were put off by the candidate coming in for an interview dressed casually, at least for the first interview.

On that point, let’s discuss what part your dress, and your posture (sitting), should play in the interview. In my opinion, your job is to not lose points, and if possible, earn yourself points over your competition. Let’s face it, jobs are tough to come by and the competition is fierce. You can expect to compete with between six and 15 candidates for each position, at least the ones that we’re working to fill, and you need to make sure you don’t lose easy points because you don’t make the right first impression.

Posture is a tough one. People often lose points on this without even knowing. I see the “slumpers”, the “stiff back sitters”, the very eager “edge of their seaters”, and the “leg crossers with too much leg showing above their socks”. All of these don’t add points, and might take them away. I recently had a client tell me about a candidate that was dressed to the nines, had great credentials and experience for the position, but was sitting with their head in their hands and their hands propped up on their knees. I couldn’t even picture this so I had to try it myself to understand it. I can see how someone could do this without knowing as the candidate was very eager. This cost them points and when all the candidates were reviewed and their experience and credentials were about even, posture worked against this particular candidate. Sit back in the seat, don’t be afraid to cross your legs (you can watch Presidential interviews taken in the White House residence or the East Room and you’ll see real pros do this right because they’re coached), keep your hands in your lap, and make good eye contact.

On that note, I’ll include eye contact in this topic. I recently interviewed a great candidate for a senior position, and while he didn’t know he was doing it, he was looking to my right about a foot or two when telling me a story or answering a question, and not looking at me. Folks, I have a tendency to do this too. In fact, if I find myself doing this, I will consciously tell myself to “MAKE EYE CONTACT”.

In a future blog, read more about building rapport with a multitude of personalities at hiring companies, as well as the search consultant conducting the assignment. Don’t forget – you have to win everyone over!

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  1. Pingback : The Job That Should Have Been Yours | Rod McDermott's Blog

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