Times are tough in the jobs market, which means that it’s vital to make a good first impression at interview. Is it time to ditch the nose piercings, jeans and trainers? Hilarie Stelfox asked for the experts’ advice on dressing to impress
ABILITY, skills and qualifications are no guarantee of securing a job.
The chances are that if you have been selected for an interview you will be one of many hoping to find work.
And, like it or not, you will be judged on your appearance as well as your CV.
Image consultants are often quoted as saying that we make up our mind about someone within seconds of meeting them, based almost entirely on how they look.
According to Brian Stahelin, who founded leading Huddersfield recruitment agency Stafflex 10 years ago: “More people than you would think don’t think about how they present themselves.
“And it’s not just about what you wear,” he added. “I have had people who slumped on the desk during an interview, not showing any interest or respect or common courtesy.”
Mistakes made by interviewees, he says, range from chewing gum or eating while being interviewed; reeking of cigarette smoke; not looking at the interviewer and not greeting them properly - a handshake is a polite necessity.
But clothing is as important. “We would say to everyone, no matter what sort of job they are going for, that they should be clean, wear clothes in good repair and pressed; have clean shoes and clean nails,” said Brian. “No jeans, no trainers – but it’s not necessary for men to wear a suit, an open-neck shirt is fine these days.”
He advises prospective employees to do some research and find out if the company they are applying to has a dress code.
“The key is to dress appropriately for the job you want,” he explained. “A punk hairstyle wouldn’t be right for behind the counter of a building society where you need to be reasonably conventional. If you wanted to be a hairdresser, however, you would get away with it.”
“When somebody walks through the door, how they look does one of two things – it makes you want to find a reason to employ them or a reason not to employ them,” he added.
Brian and his colleagues place up to 300 people a week in engineering, commercial, industrial and educational sectors.
Many of the positions they fill are temporary – but sometimes lead to permanent jobs.
Paul Balderstone, a director at Stafflex, believes that businesses are shifting to a different pattern of employment.
“They might want someone to plug a temporary gap or are not sure if the job is going to last so they are reluctant to employ someone on a permanent contract,” he said. “It’s a whole new ethos but I think that more businesses will shift to that way of doing things.”
Making a good first impression could, therefore, become even more important when most of us can expect to have several jobs in a lifetime and may be interviewing for new ones on a fairly regular basis.
Brian believes that new legislation coming into force later this year, giving temporary workers the same rights as permanent employees, will also have an effect on the jobs market.
“We have just had a pretty vicious recession,” he explained. “After previous recessions this has made businesses very nervous about employing people permanently. Because of this new legislation the consequences of getting it wrong may make employers nervous about employing people at all.”
The Examiner’s Field Sales Manager, Diane Briggs, heads a team of staff who meet advertisers and members of the public.
She interviews for ‘customer-facing’ roles and says that while most applicants dress appropriately she never fails to be surprised by those who don’t.
“We have seen people who turn up in jeans and think that’s OK,” she said.
“Whether it’s right or not, people do form an opinion of you based on your appearance within a very short time. As they say, you only get one chance to make that first impression.”
Diane believes that dressing appropriately is also a confidence booster. “If you are well turned out you feel better and perform better.
“For a customer-facing role you should be offering an appearance that isn’t going to offend anyone – it has to make a positive impression on the people you are meeting,” she added.
Her view is shared by Graham Woodward, manager of House of Fraser in Kingsgate.
“First impressions are what count,” he said. “We’d want to see that people coming for interview were dressed appropriately for the brand they’d be working on. They have to do their homework beforehand.
“For a management role it would be appropriate to wear a suit, but for one of the more casual brands then they’d need to look smart/casual.”
With up to 15 people a week making unsolicited applications for a job, Graham says the store can ‘cherry pick’ candidates. Because of this stiff competition for jobs he believes that interviewees are making more of an effort with how they present themselves.
“And they need to, in order to compete,” he added.
IMAGE CONSULTANT Heather Croft says interviewees should bear in mind that how they present themselves can be more important than what they say
“We make up our minds about someone very quickly – within eight seconds of actually meeting.
“If you’re doing a presentation others will only listen to 7% of the words, the rest of it is about body language and image,” explained Heather, who trained with Colour Me Beautiful and runs her own consultancy Mellor Gray in Slaithwaite.
Her top tips for interviews include:
Wear something red because it creates a sense of power and authority. It can make you feel good.
Even women who don’t normally wear make-up should wear lipstick or lip gloss. Says Heather: “It helps you to come across as more professional if you are slightly made up.”
Avoid wearing dramatic jewellery. “I’m the sort of person who likes to wear big, dangly earrings, but for an interview I would wear studs,” says Heather.
“Women who choose a skirt for interview might find that they become concerned about it riding up when they sit down – or they might get a hole in their tights. think about wearing opaque tights or a trouser suit instead.”