(MoneyWatch) What is the perfect job interview outfit? A smart suit? Business casual? Or perhaps something more fashion-forward. It all depends, of course, on your industry. But there are some guidelines for choosing your interview wardrobe. I asked Amanda Haddaway, director of human resources and marketing for Folcomer Equipment and author of "Destination Real World: Success After Graduation," for her thoughts on the subject:
What are some basic interview outfit guidelines?
Amanda Haddaway: Candidates should do their homework to find out what the regular dress code of the company includes. At a minimum, candidates should dress on the same level or one step up from what their interviewers will be wearing. It is always better to be a little overdressed than underdressed.
What are some definitely off-limit articles of clothing or other items?
For both men and women, casual sandals and flip flops are never appropriate. Conservative dress is preferable to wearing low-cut and revealing items. Both men and women should limit their use of colognes or scented items, as well as excessive jewelry or outfit "bling."
What should you consider if you're interviewing in a casual office?
There is a lot of disparity in what casual dress means to each employer. You may not need to wear a traditional business suit, but a collared shirt and slacks might be appropriate. Casual dress doesn't mean sloppy, so a neat, tailored appearance is desirable.
What should young people keep in mind when interviewing for their first few jobs?
One of the biggest challenges for candidates who look very young is proving their credibility. It's a great time to learn how to use an iron or find a reputable dry cleaner. Err on the side of being overly conservative. Many employers don't embrace unnatural hair colors and styles, body piercings, especially facial piercings, and large, visible tattoos. One of my first managers always told me to "dress for the job you want." If you're dressing like your future manager or the people in the next hierarchical level of the company, you are probably appropriate for the interview.
Do older candidates risk looking out of touch if they're overdressed?
Candidates at any age who are concerned about their appearance should consult with their peers who work in the industry to find out what's appropriate. If you're unsure if your look is outdated, visit a local department store and see if the items on the racks are similar to the items in your closet. Also, if you can afford to update your look, many higher-end retailers like Nordstrom (JWN) offer personal shopper assistance to help guide you in your wardrobe selections.
How much are you being judged by your looks versus what's coming out of your mouth?
The interview is a time for the candidate to present his or her best self. The reality is that the interviewer is judging you on your skills and abilities, as well as the way you look. Candidates need to present themselves in a way that the interviewer can see them presenting to a client or a senior-level person in the organization.
Any final advice if you're unsure of what to wear?
If you're stumped on what to wear, take a look at news anchors on television. Because presentation is so important in the television news industry, you'll find that most anchors are wearing interview-appropriate outfits because that's what also works on camera.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Victor1558