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Job hunting? It still pays to dress for success

By Deanne Gage,

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Image of a well-dressed job interview candidate.Looking for a new job? Don’t forget to dress the part. Inappropriate attire at interviews is the top complaint that certified image professional Anne Sowden hears from HR professionals and hiring managers. “In this economy, you want every little edge that you can have over everyone else,” says Sowden, of Here’s Looking at You Image Consulting.

So what’s considered appropriate clothing and what misses the mark? Check out these four points:

1. Wear a suit.

For men, that means a full suit – jacket, pants, shirt and tie. Women should opt for a shirt underneath the suit if it’s a senior position; otherwise, a scoop-neck top (that isn’t revealing) is fine. “A suit shows respect for the interviewer and the process and it’s universally flattering,” says Melanie Benwell, Managing Director of Pathworks Personnel, a Toronto-based recruiting firm. “It’s okay to dress a bit more formally even if the corporate culture is business casual.”

Sowden suggests picking out a newish suit – something that men tend not to do. “If a man hasn’t bought a suit in the last five years, it’s going to be obvious and he’s going to be seen as out of date,” she says. “Men’s suits have become much slimmer through the body and the jackets are shorter.” She recommends a navy or grey suit for men, and a black, navy, brown or grey suit for women. Women should be careful not to wear all red. “People either love it or hate it and it tends to say, ‘Look at me, I want to be in charge and I’m not going to be a part of a team,’” she adds.

2. Don’t forget the details.

You found a flattering suit but your shoes have seen better days. Will the hiring manager notice? Absolutely, says Benwell. “We do notice things like if your nails are neat and tidy, whether your suit was pressed and if your bag is in good shape,” she says. “If these details are overlooked, it can undermine the effort you put into your appearance.” Sowden recommends keeping any jewelry simple and in the case of women, wearing close-toed pumps. Avoid distractions like noisy bracelets or bright nail polish. “You want to be remembered for who you are and what you can do rather than as the woman with the Canadian flag-red fingernails,” she says. As for hair, keep it neat and off your face.

3. Watch your body language.

When you walk into an interview, your suit should be buttoned up to communicate the message “professional and polished,” says Sowden. But when you sit down, unbutton your jacket, she suggests. “That way the jacket will fall nicely and you’ll be comfortable. The gesture also says, ‘I’m open to a conversation and I want to talk to you.’” Watch for things like playing with your hair or making exaggerated hand gestures, which can be distracting to hiring managers, she adds.

4. Dress up for online interviews.

Some interviews are now conducted online using video technology like Skype. Benwell says the same rules mostly apply. “With high-definition video, it’s like being face to face,” she says. Some people just dress up the top part of themselves (jacket, makeup) and wear jeans below since the computer can’t see that. “That’s fine, but don’t stand up,” Benwell says, noting that she once saw a candidate’s pajama bottoms during a Skype interview, and adds: “No, Mr. PJs didn’t get the job.”

Check out other job-hunting tips:

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J on – very interesting blog to find a job

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