Interview outfits - the perfect fit

First impressions are critical — especially when it comes to job interviews.

YOU have an interview — congratulations! This is your chance to prove that you have the necessary attributes to be a perfect ‘fit’ with their company.

Studies have shown that we form an opinion of people within the first five seconds of meeting them and that it can take up to 21 successive experiences to change that initial first impression.

In this difficult employment market — according to the CSO more than 408,000 people are out of work — appearance has taken on even more importance in the decision-making process at an interview.

A study conducted by the University of Sydney in 2013 discovered that women who make little effort with their appearance earn 11% less than their better presented colleagues.

And it’s not just our clothes that count. In Walking Tall — Key Steps to Total Image, author Lesley Everett says the way we present ourselves (our personal appearance, facial expressions, body language and gestures) accounts for 93% of how others judge us, with only seven per cent based on what we say.

Lisa Fitzpatrick, a top fashion stylist, says it’s important to consider the work environment of the company you are applying to when selecting an outfit for interview — an interview with a fashion retailer will require a very different style to one with a solicitor’s office.

“I would recommend that you choose an outfit which is compatible with what the job would dictate and adapt it in a way that is appropriate for your age, shape and skin tone. You don’t need to follow trends. Style is classic and lasts forever,” says Fitzpatrick.

Think of your interview outfit as a key part of your presentation. Sonya Lennon, fashion stylist and designer, says: “Clothes can be an effective armour to prepare us for battle in the workplace. When we feel confident we are the best versions of ourselves.”

Maura Derrane, presenter of the Today show on RTÉ, agrees. “Often, the best dressed women are those who exude confidence. For an interview, I think it can be more important to feel confident than to feel comfortable, although the two often go hand in hand.”

While it’s important to look your best at an interview, it’s all too easy to over-step the mark. Common mistakes include: n Poor personal hygiene — shower before your interview and use antiperspirant deodorant. Use perfume sparingly.

* Heavy make-up — apply your makeup with a light hand, choosing a natural, ‘day time’ look. Avoid heavy eye makeup or lipstick. Obvious fake tan should be avoided. Use a subtle nail polish colour and check it for chips.

* Lack of grooming — make sure your hair is neatly styled and out of your face, that your clothes are well pressed and clean, your tights are snag- free and your shoes are polished. (Always keep an extra pair of tights in your bag)

* Inappropriate footwear — Keep the five-inch stiletto heels for Saturday night. A closed-toe shoe with a comfortable heel will look far more suitable in an office.

* Hemlines and necklines — avoid clothes with necklines that are too low cut. Skirts and dresses should not be too tight or too short. Businesswoman Norah Casey says she meets women who “think that the way to get the boss’s attention is to dress inappropriately and use their feminine charms but that is disastrous. It sends out the wrong signals and it certainly doesn’t help with career progression.”

* Too much jewellery — If the job you are applying for is in a creative atmosphere then a statement necklace may work but generally it’s best to keep jewellery to a minimum. A watch, simple stud earrings and one or two rings are acceptable.

While most of us feel nervous about the interview process, some women see it as a terrifying ordeal. They may have had a lengthy period out of the workplace due to maternity or redundancy and feel they lack the necessary skills to rejoin the workforce. For others, the cost of preparing for an interview, which experts estimate could start at €100 minimum, is insurmountable. This is where Dress for Success comes in.

In New York in 1995, Nancy Lubin founded Dress for Success, an international non-profit organisation as she wanted to help disadvantaged women by ‘dressing them in a cloak of confidence’. Women are styled and receive one suit for their first interview and can return for a second suit or separates if they are hired. They also receive vital information about the importance of personal presentation and interview skills.

Now operating in 127 centres in 15 countries, Dress for Success was first brought to Ireland in 2011 by Sonya Lennon. “I saw it as a great opportunity to use my profile from Off the Rails to make a real change to the lives of women in my community. It’s such a simple idea — take clothes from women who don’t need them and give them to women who do need them to help create economic independence,” says Lennon. In the two years since opening, the Dublin branch has helped almost 1,000 women make the journey back to employment.

And now, thanks to the Trojan work of Carmel O’Keeffe, the women of Cork can avail of this impressive service. Following the sudden death of her husband in 2011 and the closure of her business due to the economic downturn, O’Keeffe found herself struggling when a friend suggested Dress for Success. An extensive application process with Dress For Success in New York followed, in which she had to find a premises free of charge, secure sponsorship and convince professional stylists, hair and make-up artists and career coaches to come on board.

“People are so generous. I had 18 men on the premises last week, from carpenters to electricians and plumbers, all there free of charge, working tirelessly to ensure the centre would be up and running on time,” says O’Keeffe.

Their efforts have not gone to waste. Dress for Success Cork is compromised of a series of rooms on two floors, discreetly located above an accountant’s office on Oliver Plunkett St. The reception and meeting room boast beautifully embossed cream walls with plush leather couches and beautiful wooden furniture all generously sponsored by their partners, DFS, sofa retailers at City Gate, Cork.

It’s the little touches that impress, from a floral chaise longue (again, from DFS) in the styling room, to the bookshelf filled with motivational books to the manner in which the clothes are wrapped in tissue paper and gently placed in shopping bags for the client to take home with her. The whole centre feels like an upscale styling service that many would be happy to pay a great deal of money to avail of.

The service, which officially opened yesterday is free to women who are relying on social welfare payments or who are economically disadvantaged.

By following the simple and time-proven principle: dress for success, there’s every reason for a woman — regardless of her financial status — to feel confident at an interview or in the workplace — once she gets ‘the look’ nailed.

*For more information, phone 021-4251769 or email cork@dressforsuccess.org. You can also call into Dress for Success at 131 Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork.

* Dress for Success is always looking for donations of gently worn, interview-appropriate clothes, shoes and handbags.

Interview tactics

To ensure that the first impres -sion you make on your inter-viewer is favourable, here’s some expert advice.

¦ Do your research: Learn as much as you can about the company interviewing you. Re-view its website, talk to current employees, if you can.

¦ Study your CV. Think about how your experience can add value to the company. Bring an extra copy of your CV with you.

¦ Ask a friend, or family member, to give you a mock interview. It’s important to practice, so that your answers sound confident.

¦ Check out the route to the place of interview, beforehand, so you know exactly where you are going. On the day of the interview, give yourself ample time to reach your destination.

¦ A firm handshake and good eye contact are essential to making a good impression in an interview. Good posture, and a warm smile, are also key.

¦ This may sound obvious, but don’t chew gum or use inappropriate language, and turn your mobile phone off.

¦ The day after the interview, it’s a good idea to send a short note, thanking the inter-viewer for taking the time to meet you.

Get some dress sense

To ensure that you look like you mean business, Martha Healy, co-owner of image consultancy The Art of Style, says every working woman should invest in a ‘capsule’ wardrobe.

“The classic idea of the three-piece suit still holds true today.

“A beautifully tailored suit jacket, well-cut trousers and fitted knee-length skirt can be used to form the basis of your working wardrobe.

“Purchase a couple of classic button-down shirts, a silk blouse, a shift dress, a good leather handbag and shoes. After that you can use careful-ly selected accessories to add a personalised twist.”


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