Dressing to Get the Job

March 31, 2008

Although fashionistas everywhere will pronounce this list as trivial, derivative, cautious, and conservative; here is a simple guide to dressing for an interview.

Dressing for an interview is more about getting a job than self-expression. In chemistry, conservatism rules, and dress attire is the norm for an interview. People choosing not to dress the part run the risk of appearing uninterested, contemptuous, insincere and/or sloppy. The process of dressing up for an interview is seen as a sign of respect for the employer. To not dress up is one of disrespect.

Men: In general, guys should stick to “the uniform”, a navy jacket, khaki pants, a white or light blue shirt, and a striped tie. A nice suit is also acceptable. Although boring, the standard uniform is both respectful, and expected.

Women: Ladies have a bit more flexibility with their basic outfit. Simple styles work best. Go for straight lines and basic color combinations. Like the guys, navy, white, black, khaki and brown work well. Avoid overusing bright colors, dramatic cuts, and plunging necklines common in haute couture.

  1. Spectroscopists should never dress alone. We’ve all seen the alarming results of this debacle. Fuchsia, lime green, and bright orange should never be worn together during an interview—never!
  2. Avoid trendy or extreme fashions. It is okay to be expressive, but you don’t want your interviewers to be talking about your outfit after you leave. You want them to remember the creative and innovative ways that you approached the science.
  3. This is not an opportunity to wear your collection of bride’s maid, or prom dresses. They didn’t look good then, and they still don’t. Besides, taffeta is highly flammable, and soluble in most organic solvents.
  4. Choose outfits that travel well. Your clothes will wrinkle. The kid next to you on the plane will throw his Cheerios at you, and at some point, will manage to unscrew the top of his tipsy tumbler. Cotton/polyester blends generally avoid wrinkles, and stain-resistant fabrics can easily shed Kool-Aid.
  5. Toss a lint brush or roller into your bag. That way, you can duck into the restroom at your destination, and reappear moments later dander-free.
  6. Avoid making political or cultural statements through clothing choices. It is true that people have cultural biases; however, the interview is not the time to address them. After you get the job, you can more effectively influence the culture of the organization.
  7. Pockets are nice, but avoid overloading them. Carry a nice portfolio, brief, or bag instead. Putting too much in your pockets will result in unsightly bulges. Extensive pocket inventories also make it less likely that you will be able to pull the right item out of your pocket at the right time.
  8. Bulging biceps, curvaceous contours, and taut six-packs are great goals for the gym, but they should not be emphasized by clingy or stretchy fabrics. On an interview, you should express your chemistry professionally, not personally.
  9. New hairstyles are often adopted in times of change, and they can sometimes give you a boost to your self-image during times of stress. However, be cautious of coiffures involving topiaries, to utilizing bright and unnatural coloring. Such styles generally go bad in the early morning hours before an interview resulting in a bad hair day and much unneeded stress.
  10. As an accoutrement to dress, many people anoint themselves with colognes and perfumes; however, fragrances should not be used flagrantly. Use them in moderation. Allergic employers will be grateful.

Ultimately, the style that you adopt will be a reflection of you; however, a compromise is sometimes necessary when it comes to interviewing. Remember to dress sharp, but conservative for your big day. Landing the job must be your primary goal.

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.