Cleveland stated that when first working with a client who is about to embark on their first job interview, he interviews them by asking, “Why are you buying a suit? What type of interview is it for: entry level, mid-management or executive and what industry are you pursuing?” For example, says Cleveland, “An interview with a law firm may require a conservative suit, whereas, when pursuing careers in the IT or marketing field, there may be room for more self expression.” – and it may even be expected.
I pressed on...
- What color suits are best for the first interview:
According to Cleveland, “You can never go wrong with a charcoal grey or navy suit, and they are “always appropriate. Different regional areas of the country must also be factored in.” he reminds me. “Almost everyone in New York wears a black suit.” Black is often too dark for many areas of the country, however, because it conveys formality (such as in black-tie affair). “It is important to distinguish yourself from formality,” he says, “when interviewing because the focus should not be on the clothes you are wearing; the focus should be on you!” Urban areas like Atlanta and Washington DC may lend themselves to more risk taking depending on the industry.
- Two or three buttons?
Two buttons is always the way to go; however, of course there is an exception. “Some athletic builds and certain body types do better with a three button suit,” states Cleveland, “because a two button may not look right and can sometimes cause the lapels to peak.”
- What kind of fabric and does quality really matter?
“Always a wool suit,” says Cleveland. The reason for that is because of wool’s ability to resist wrinkles (which is vital in an interview situation). 100% wool and stay away from man-made fabrics such as polyester and cotton. “You can get a wool suit as light as you want it,” he says, because there are varying grades and ratings of good quality wool – (super 100, super 110, super 150). Without submerging you in a full textile class, just remember that quality is important. Just as Cleveland is able to discern the quality of the fabric a suit is made of, so are many hiring managers who may have been buying suits for many years before you!
- How important is the shirt and the shirt color – long sleeves or short sleeves?
Again there is a code to follow – “Always long sleeves with a suit and roll them up if you have too. Your arms must be covered,” he says. A white shirt is advised for the first interview (and make sure you have several of them). After a white shirt, he recommends a light blue shirt which is good for the second or third round of interviews if needed. “At that point,” he comments, “you could also start to consider a few other colors of shirts because the interviewer is now looking for more personality factors.” For those on a budget, Cleveland also lets us know that you can wear the same suit with a different color shirt and tie combination and have an entirely new look.
- Tying one on.
The advice that I have always read said that a man should always wear a solid tie for an interview. So I was particularly interested on a professional take from Cleveland. “Personally, I prefer not to do solid ties,” he says, “they are formal and a small print in a coordinating color works very well or a regimental stripe.” Again, more codes: “No bright red,” he states. Why no red – isn’t red the symbol of the power tie? Red is good for giving presentations and it really stands out on a white shirt; however, in an interview situation it draws attention and focus to your clothing rather than to you. “In an interview situation, you are trying to fit in without standing out,” he says. For solid ties he suggest s blue, gold or burgundy which will look good on both white and light blue shirts.
- What about your accessories: jewelry, belts, braces, cufflinks?
“For an initial interview,” states Cleveland, “less jewelry is better. A watch and one ring.” Cufflinks can be too flashy and remember, the interviewer is evaluating you as a whole and unfortunately, sometimes our decisions on accessories can lend to perceptions about us that may or may not be true. Better to be conservative in this instance. There is an exception- “Professionals in the banking industry often want their employees to look prosperous, so in that instance it may be okay to consider a French cuff shirt with cufflinks.”
Cleveland recommends that you leave the tie pins at home. A handkerchief is “okay”, but “stay away from the tie and handkerchief combination packages,” he advises. A white silk or coordinating handkerchief is fine.
Braces, which are similar to suspenders, but have an eyelet that attaches to a button sewn into the pants are an item for some men with particular body types to consider. “Braces hold the pants up,” he reminds us, “whereas, belts just hold the pants in.”
From top to bottom – how about those shoes? “Black is great for a black suit, however,” says Cleveland “they are often too dark for many other suits. A good pair of brown or burgundy shoes will go with every other color of suit.”
With sage advice on what to wear to an interview, how much should you look to budget on your wardrobe? Based on average retail prices, you could look to get three suits, shirts and ties with a good pair of shoes for around $1500. However, it is important to give yourself range based on your career field and the type of industry you are pursuing. As with many things during a job search, Cleveland reminds us that your wardrobe is an investment that will pay returns. “A good quality wool suit, taken care of, hung appropriately on good hangers and dry cleaned once or twice a season will last a long time. A cheap suit will need to be replaced and will end up costing you more in the long run.”
One last tip that Cleveland left me with is applicable on so many levels and for many reasons. “Go to the place where they are going to be interviewing you. Not only does it help you to find you way, but you can also see what everyone else is wearing. You are interviewing them as well, and they are interviewing you to see how well you can FIT INTO their environment.”
For more information on how to dress professionally for your interview visit or contact Cleveland Johnson at Jos A Banks, 11820 Merchants Walk, Oyster Point, Newport News, VA 23606 /phone: 757-596-0969.
If you're ready to have us craft a job-winning resume that communicates your value, click here to get started. When you submit this initial form, you will be asked to select a date and time for your complimentary consultation.
A Platinum Resume, LLC
Kara Varner, MAOM, CPRW