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Warren Carter, of The QualiFind Group, explains the importance of dressing for success.

First, please tell me what you do.

I’m the founder and president of The QualiFind Group. We are composed of three separate practices that provide professional and technical recruiting and executive search services for the U.S. and Mexico. Our AgriFind and ExeQfind practices focus on conducting recruiting and executive search for employers seeking key management and leadership talent. Our MaquilaFind practice is devoted to both professional and technical recruitment for Mexico’s manufacturing industry. We are paid by employers to represent their needs and concerns in the recruitment process.

Ok, so I guess the professional appearance of your candidates is an important factor to consider. Am I right?

Yes, very much so. Our clients are employers that have a specific role that they want filled in their organization. Our primary goal is to find candidate’s that meet or exceed our client’s expectations for that role. When we find candidates that meet or exceed our client’s expectations, then how that person communicates and presents themselves to our clients is also of great concern. First impressions are critical.

As much as we’d all like to believe that we’re not being judged by our appearance, the truth is, we are. When you walk into a room, the interviewer’s most immediate impression is your hairstyle, clothes, the way you carry yourself, your smile, and all other non-verbal communications. Your credentials aren’t able to be presented and discussed well if you can’t get past that first impression.

Can you give me some specifics?

We understand the organizational culture of our clients and we coach the candidates that have passed our vetting process to dress accordingly. Some clients specifically request that candidates come to interviews in business casual attire while others want to see candidates in formal business attire. It’s important to know the company’s organizational culture and expectations for interview attire before the interview.

Business casual attire can mean many things to different people depending upon age and other demographics. We advise them specifically on whether business casual will mean wool dress slacks and or cotton khaki pants for men and what that means for women as well.

In terms of formal business attire for men, this typically means navy or gray suits. Darker shades provide a more authoritative image. Earth tones are too relaxed, and solid black can give the appearance of being over-dressed. For shirts, white is always a good, solid choice. Ties should be in muted colors with conservative patterns. We recommend that shoes be dark leather, and socks should be dark as well. The color of the belt and pattern of the leather should relate to those of the shoes, and jewelry should be kept to a minimum: watch, ring, and cuff links if necessary.

Rosa Icela Villarreal of our firm advises that matching suits are the most authoritative form of formal business attire for women. She says that these can be skirt suits or pant suits. The hemline should go no higher than just above the knee. No denim. No hippie skirts. Best bet blouses include softly draped or tailored blouses. Avoid low scoop necklines, strapless, sheer fabrics, puffy sleeves, ruffles, oversize prints, and bright colors. I recommend closed toed shoes, though peep-toes and sling backs are ok. They should be in dark colors as well. Jewelry shouldn’t be overdone, but there’s more room here than there is for men. Bracelets are ok, but nothing noisy. A cuff bracelet can work nicely. A simple necklace or small earrings are ok as long as they’re not distracting.

Both men and women should use cologne and perfume discretely. Too much of either is considered offensive.

What if candidates are unable to determine what the proper dress code is?

Our rule is that if in doubt, always wear formal business attire. Suit and tie for men and business suit for women. We would prefer our candidates to err on the side of being slightly overdressed than being underdressed.

Do you have any further tips for dressing the part for interviews?

I have found that Nordstroms provides both the best trained sales people and the highest quality apparel. Their sales reps are very well accustomed to helping with selecting the proper apparel but also in ensuring that it is tailored to properly fit. For those that may find Nordstroms to be a bit pricey, I would suggest Men’s Wearhouse, Jos. A. Banks, or Macy’s, and I would reiterate this is far from an all-inclusive list of resources. Men’s Wearhouse has some great resources through their website that could assist men with becoming better informed before visiting a store.

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