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Let's face it: Job interviews are daunting. In addition to putting your best professional foot forward, you have to look the part. Whether they realize it or not, many interviewers make a snap decision about whether or not you're hirable within seconds of meeting you. Blame human nature, but first impressions really do count. Your potential boss is probably searching for clues that tell her if you'll fit in with her other employees and if you're organized, confident, and put together.
So give yourself the best possible chance to score that new job by looking and feeling your best for your interview. While every industry has different standards for their employee's appearances, we've got some general rules that will help you nail the perfect look so you can concentrate on the important stuff -- selling your stellar skills and job experience!Be Modest
If an article of clothing is tight, shows cleavage, or makes you concerned that your underwear lines are visible, that's a dealbreaker. Regardless of your confidence level or the pride you have in your body, an interview is not the time to show it off it an overt way. Body-hugging skirts or tops are major turnoffs; they indicate that you don't take the job you're applying for seriously. Stick to pants, a pencil skirt, or dresses with sheath or A-line silhouettes. Skip anything with a plunging neckline on top. If it's summer, make sure your lightweight fabrics aren't see-through. When all else fails, follow this basic rule: If you have any questions about an item of clothing, just don't wear it. It's not worth worrying about during your interview.Check Your Lengths
For an interview, dresses and skirts should fall right above the knee -- no higher. Even if you're in a creative or fashion-focused industry, show some discretion when it comes to the amount of skin you have on display. Your sleeve length should also be modest. Sleeveless tops or dresses are almost always too casual for any type of interview.Wear a Jacket
Jackets and blazers are perfect go-to pieces that will always add some professional style to your look. Don't be afraid to go beyond the standard black blazer: Rocking a colorful or textured blazer, jacket, or cardigan can show a little of your personality while also keeping your look modest. One exception: If you're interviewing at a very conservative office like a law firm or bank, stick to black, gray, navy, or camel.Invest in Accessories
Accessories are a great way to communicate your personality. A statement necklace with a solid-color top or a pair of beautiful earrings will give the interviewer a glimpse into your personal style. But do avoid jewelry that's too bright or anything too aggressive, like skulls or spikes. Size matters, too -- don't wear chunky bracelets or rings that will slide around or make noise when you talk or shake hands.
Pay attention to your shoes, too: Closed-toe pumps are always your best bet, especially if you're not sure how conservative the office is. Also, keep your heel height below 4 inches -- anything else is just too over the top for an interview. Great shoes and accessories will not only give you a put-together look, they will help the interviewer remember you.Go for a Fresh Face
When you walk through the door for an interview you want the interviewer to see you -- not your makeup, not a crazy hairstyle. Minimalism is key. Make sure your nails are clean and trimmed, not ragged or chewed up. Get a manicure (or DIY one) if you want to look extra-polished. Clear, light pink, or nude polish goes with everything and always looks professional.
Keep your makeup natural and basic -- no heavy, smoky eyes, no blue eyeliner. If you need a boost of color, go for a subtle flush on your cheeks or a natural-looking pink shade for lips. Red lips could be a bit much for an interview, unless it's your signature look. As far as your hair is concerned, keep it clean, chic, and out of your face. If you're the type who plays with your hair out of habit or nervousness, pull it back so you can resist the temptation and stay focused.Do Your Research
If you're not familiar with your potential new company, do some research to get a feel for how conservative or creative the office style vibe is. If you know someone who's worked there, hit them up for advice. Don't know any insiders? Check out the company website. Are there photos of employee gatherings? What about LinkedIn? If you're really worried, you could even go the semi-stalker route and get outfit clues while people watching outside your potential new office to see what sort of attire the employees are wearing as they come and go.Do Some Prep
The last thing you want to do is rush around the morning of your interview wondering what to wear; it will only make you more nervous or frazzled. Choose your outfit beforehand, and try on a few options before you pick the winner -- that way you can leave the house on the big day feeling confident and polished. Steam or iron each piece of clothing and check for stains, holes, or dangling threads. Lay out your entire look and you'll be ready to go in the morning. It's also not a bad plan to have a backup outfit (just in case you spill coffee on your blouse on the way out). Bonus: If you make it to your interview unscathed, you already have a look ready to go for your second interview. Good luck!
Originally published on LHJ.com, October 2012.