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Nonprofit HR’s Blog

By Destiny Kibalama, CSP, Nonprofit HR

Recently, I was forced to have a personal style conversation with a new graduate. The how-to-dress-for-an-interview 101 began after she tried to explain to me that even though she had a business professional suit, she preferred to wear green shoes, mismatched pants and blouse, and a semi-jacket to our meeting because she wanted to express her style and individuality.

Our discussion took me back to my college days when I wore whatever I wanted and exercised a greater freedom of expression. As long as I could explain and justify my attire, I could get away with it. I left college with 40 t-shirts and 20 sweatpants.

So there is a part of me that understood my candidate’s need to stand out and express herself. However, when you are trying to get a job there are parameters. You may like to have orange spiky hair but that is not the image an employer wants to see the first time they meet you. For all those who are looking to stand out, go for it! Just do it after hours and don’t do it during your first meeting with a prospective employer. As a recruiter, I remember all the sharp looking people I have interviewed. That being said, I also remember the horribly dressed people. People I might rarely place with my clients.

Are interviews a way to show your style and individuality? I am not sure yet but if I had to advise someone, I would tell them to take the conservative route. I doubt that most employers will turn you away for looking too professional and if that is the reason they turn you away it might not be a bad thing.

Employers will turn people away for appearing unprofessional. I say appearing because in that moment your attire is the first thing they are analyzing. If you are a superstar, you might be able to have them overlook the wrinkled tie or skirt or the stain on your pants. But why would you want to put yourself in that situation anyway? Why risk it?

With the current job market being so competitive, candidates are competing against a lot of other job searchers and yet I still see people who choose to dress out of the norm for the workplace. You can’t say you are giving your job search 100 percent if show up to an interview with uncombed hair. Your resume, attire and attitude need to be perfect for you to have a chance to get a job.

That being said, I think you might be able to have fun in some industries or not bother at all in others but unless you know for sure, please don’t go overboard trying to be unique! Get the job first. Being employed gives you a great ability to truly express yourself.

By the way, now – a few years after college – I think I own two pairs of sweatpants and hardly any t-shirts and somehow I am okay with that.

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