Friday, May 27, 2005

An executive at a Fortune 500 company once told me that he changed his mind on the decision to hire an interviewee when, at their third meeting, over dinner, the young man in question salted his food before tasting it. The executive said that this behavior indicated to him a personality likely to make hasty decisions, without first evaluating all of the circumstances and options.

A bit harsh, perhaps. Yet it goes right to the heart of the interview process, where impeccable vitae and sterling references can be trumped in 60 seconds by an unsatisfactory first impression. Indeed, sometimes years of valuable experience are no match for a careless gesture, limp handshake or poor wardrobe choice.

That’s why it’s crucial to make sure that the first impression you make on a prospective employer is not negatively affected by your appearance during the interview. The following column focuses on selecting the appropriate men’s wardrobe for such an occasion. (Ladies, we’ll get to you next week.)

Guys, it’s important to dress your best for an interview. Whether the job you seek is a forest ranger or financial advisor, you should not adopt the dress code of your potential employer until you are an employee. Plan to wear a traditional suit to your interview.

When selecting your suit, consider color, style and fabric. For the ultimate in professionalism, select a conservative charcoal grey or navy blue single-breasted suit, in a smooth fabric and solid color or fine pinstripe. A two- or three-button jacket with side vents should do the trick for a position on Wall Street, while you will be safe adding slightly more fashion flair for a position in say, marketing or design. For the latter, don a suit in earthy brown or dark olive green tones, adding a touch of pizzazz with a textured fabric.

No matter the style, the suit must fit well. Even a $5,000 suit won’t look good if it isn’t tailored properly. A suit should feel comfortable, and should not pull across the chest or restrict your movement. The jacket collar should lie smoothly over your shoulders and across your back.

Finally, don’t forget the accessories! Shoes and belts should be in tip-top shape, without scuff marks or visible signs of wear. Clothes don’t necessarily make the man, but sometimes they do get the job!

Dear Jordan:

Is it acceptable to wear brown shoes to an interview?

Paul - Herndon, VA

Dear Paul:

Brown shoes are great for many occasions, but your best bet for an interview is a pair of black leather shoes — and a matching belt.

Dear Jordan:

I’ve just graduated from college and I only own one suit. I am about to start the interview process, and was wondering if it’s okay to wear the same suit to a second interview.

Toby - Chevy Chase

Dear Toby:

While I am generally an advocate of making clothes go the extra mile, in this case I would suggest that you bite the bullet and buy yourself another suit. You will get plenty of use out of a second suit, and will be grateful you have two to choose from when the third interview rolls around. Good luck!

Dear Jordan:

I have acquired beautiful fine jewelry and enjoy wearing it to work. However, most of the ladies wear costume jewelry even though they also own plenty of the real stuff. I don’t want to keep mine tucked away but what is appropriate?

Nina - Olney, MD

Dear Nina:

If it is appropriate to wear costume jewelry (which can be quite costly) or the real thing. In either case, it should be tasteful and should accentuate an outfit, not overwhelm it. Unless you are concerned about losing it, there is no reason to keep your beautiful jewelry tucked away in a box

Dear Jordan:

Are cuffed pants on a suit in or out this season?

Chuck - Arlington, VA

Dear Chuck:

Cuffs usually go better with pleated pants, while a hem is a better match for the increasingly popular flat-front and the person’s height — cuffs cut off, while hems elongate. Good luck!

Dear Jordan:

Many of the top broadcasters wear pink and purple ties. They look great on camera. Would I be making a mistake wearing them to work at my accounting firm?

Stephen - Adams Morgan

Dear Stephen:

Adding a touch of flair to an otherwise traditional suit is usually recommended in most professions, but some firms have not yet explored their more colorful sides. Try it on a non-client day and take cues from your colleagues.

Jordan Speer is the senior editor of an apparel business magazine and she has been writing about the industry for more than nine years. Send workplace or corporate fashion questions to

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