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Interview attire: ‘Conservatism is key’

A statement necklace adds individuality to an interview look. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald.1 / 4
A knee-length khaki skirt and a patterned blouse from True Colors create a look appropriate for an interview in retail. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald.2 / 4
Black slacks, a dressy blouse and a blazer from True Colors create a look appropriate for a professional interview. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald.3 / 4
A statement necklace can add interest and individuality to an interview outfit. John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald4 / 4

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Job interviews can stir a lot of nerves and anticipation of new possibilities, which can put clothing at the back of one’s mind. But employers around the Grand Forks area agree that the first impression is everything, and one’s clothing choices have a lot to do with it.

“Everything is about that first impression,” said Mickie Nakonechny, owner of True Colors. “You don’t want to overdo and you don’t want to under-do it.”

Pat Hanson, director of human resources and payroll services at the University of North Dakota, agreed.

“I think it’s important when you make that first initial impression that it tells us who you are,” she said. “If your clothes are really wrinkled, if they are not appropriate for the environment you’ll be working in, it says a lot about whether you’d fit into that position.”

Dress for the position

When choosing an outfit for an interview, they said the first thing to consider is the type of position one’s applying for.

“In general, I recommend that you dress up a notch from the position,” said Ilene Odegard, director of career services at UND.

Hanson said UND doesn’t have a dress code, but she expects applicants to come dressed appropriately, and appropriate attire may vary with the type of position.

“If they’re coming in and interviewing for a faculty position, the dress might be different than if they’re coming in for a custodial position,” she said.

For professional interviews such as a teaching, office or bank job, Nakonechny said black pants, a blouse and cardigan or blazer would be appropriate. She said men should wear an ironed button down shirt with a crisp collar and tie.

Other employers suggest more formal business attire.

“For women and men, a suit is an investment,” Odegard said. “In a way, you can’t not afford it.”

But that formal business attire isn’t required for every interview.

For custodial and blue-collar jobs, Hanson said, “It might not be the two-piece suit and tie that you’d wear if you were interviewing for a faculty position or a professional position.”

She said khakis and a dress shirt or polo shirt would be more appropriate for those jobs.

Similarly, Nakonechny said structured leggings or jeans and a nice tunic are acceptable for most retail interviews.

Dress for the environment

Kathy Kenyon, employment recruiter at Altru Health Systems, and Kristi Stoltman, nurse recruiter at Altru, said it’s also important to dress for the environment.

“We are a smoke free facility, so we really discourage or frown upon people who come in smelling like cigarette smoke, just because we are smoke free, and we can’t have employees like that around our patients,” Stoltman said.

Kenyon added, “If it’s specifically health care that you’re interviewing with, you want to keep fragrance free… you always want to be aware of your surroundings.”

They suggested doing some research on a company and the specific department to determine whether or not there is a dress code.

Be conservative

“I think what we’d recommend is to dress very conservative and be overdressed rather than underdressed,” Hanson said. “Conservatism is key.”

That conservatism includes the cut, design and length of pieces, as well as the colors and patterns.

“You always want to air on the side of caution,” Nakonechny said. “The time for individuality is when you get the job.”

She suggested neutral tones such as black, white and even navy.

Kenyon agreed. “It comes across more professional when you stick to those neutral colors because it’s more of a traditional feel when you stick to those blacks and browns,” she said.

Nakonechny added: “I would stay away from the larger patterns and bolder colors. The whole idea is to make a good impression and you want the interviewer to be listening to what you’re saying not looking at your clothes.”

At the same time, Nakonechny said for a retail position she appreciates a little individuality in an interview.

“If you’re applying for a job in retail, where your appearance helps sell clothes, then your individuality can show through more, and you can wear more unique pieces,” she said. “For me, individuality in a person’s style is important.”

It’s more than the clothes

Even at a more professional interview, Nakonechny said interviewees can show a little personality with their jewelry and accessories, as long as it isn’t too distracting.

“You want to show your personality, I get that, but if the interviewer walks out the room you want him to remember you, not your Mickey Mouse tie,” Odegard said.

Along with the professional attire and accessories, Nakonechny said men should be clean shaven, women should have their hair done nice and nails should always be well-groomed.

“Chipped nail polish looks unprofessional,” she said.

She also suggested covering up tattoos and taking out any body piercings.

Kenyon said she sees a lot of people come in with flip-flops, which takes away from the candidate’s professionalism.

“One time I had an applicant who had sunglasses on their head,” Stoltman said. “They were dressed professionally, but the manager noticed that right away.”

All of those little things contribute to one’s overall appearance and professionalism and can help determine whether someone receives a job offer.

“We look at their responses, their communication skills, their skill sets, but we definitely look at what they’re wearing and how they present themselves,” Stoltman said. “And I think what they wear can really help.”

Interviewing do’s and don’ts

  • Research the company, department and position before the interview.
  • Prepare questions about the position.
  • Practice interview questions with a friend.
  • Have good posture.
  • Be confident and positive.
  • Dress professional.
  • Be genuine and authentic.
  • Keep jewelry and makeup to a minimum.
  • Leave the purse in the car; instead bring a pad folio for notes.
  • Don’t wear loud colors and busy patterns.
  • Don’t fidget.
  • Don’t wear flip-flops.
  • Don’t chew gum.
  • Don’t bring your children.
  • Don’t bring your cellphone.
Jasmine Maki
Jasmine Maki is a features reporter for Accent. Her main beats are arts and entertainment and life and style. She also occasionally covers health, family and TV.
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