Presenting yourself for success part two: cracking the business attire code

4 July 2017

Last time, we looked at six recommendations on how to present yourself for success. My focus was on the small things that add up to make a difference in how others perceive you.

While I will be the first to say appearances are far from the most important aspect to consider when vying for your dream job, let’s face it - the old adage of 'what you wear' and 'first impressions' still applies. Especially in our digitally driven age, where you are inadvertently presenting yourself to the world even when you only intend to post a picture to a handful of friends or followers.

A poor decision now may make or break your career trajectory. Hence, I am always cautious when providing advice to a person on what they should wear in an interview or at a workplace because the answer is that it will really depend on circumstances and organisational culture. Besides, dressing for success is so much more than just the clothes that you wear as I detailed in the last edition of eNews.

However, there are some general rules you can follow as the clothes you wear can speak volumes to an audience.

Think about what your attire says about you

One particular University of Kansas study found that people could accurately predict an individual’s personality traits, such as extroversion/introversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness, simply by seeing their shoes. So one of the least considered dress items can actually reveal a lot about you.

Be business-ready

Looking the part, in the business world, has definitely resurfaced as a priority in the eyes of many corporate decision makers.  This is why many US-based organisations are encouraging their employees to wear business-ready attire.

So what exactly is ‘business-ready’?  It means:

1. Wearing clothes that would allow you to replace your manager in a meeting;

2. Dressing in business appropriate attire so that you never have to apologise for how you look;

3. Dressing for the position you want rather than for the one that you have.

Some of the specifics of this business-ready style (from a general advice perspective) are to wear a conservative suit (ladies can wear either pants or skirt with their jacket) in black, navy or dark grey. This suit should be paired with a white or light coloured (often blue) business shirt or blouse. Ties and scarves are a great accessory that can make your look more formal, but be sure that it is conventional with a block of colour, stripes or a small pattern. Shoes should be fully enclosed, polished and of a neutral colour (usually black or brown) that matches your belt and outfit. Jewellery should be kept to a minimum. A watch and ring are acceptable. For ladies, small earrings are the best choice. Sorry guys, conservative workplaces may not look favourably upon you wearing earrings of any sort. In terms of grooming, have a well-maintained hairstyle and clean fingernails. If you use makeup, keep it light and natural.

Mimicry is the highest form of flattery

With all of these details in mind, a final piece of wisdom for you is that discreet mimicry of clothing style is a way to connect with someone you are trying to influence.

Some studies cite that individuals who subtly mimicked their opponent were five times more likely to get what they wanted in negotiations than people who didn't. While the recruiter isn't necessarily your opponent, they are someone you need to win over. Dress and act like you already work for the organisation or are in the position that you want to be promoted to.

Daniel Capper is a Senior Manager at UQ Careers Service (Student Employability Centre) and the Queensland/Northern Territory President of the National Association of Careers Advisory Services.


Disclaimer: eNews articles are intended to provide general commentary and general information only. They are not intended as professional advice or as a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon as such. They are the work of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the university or involve the recommendation or endorsement of the university.