Dressing correctly for job interviews

Since beginning our research this year, a recurring complaint has emerged from graduate recruiters. “Candidates just aren’t presenting themselves well enough.” Think your fantastic CV and enormous brain will be enough to win you that training contact?

Think again – let’s face it, people are naturally judgemental, and especially so in this particular context. Research suggests that people form their entire opinions of each other in just a few minutes – 90 seconds of which is spent judging clothes and hairstyle.


Here are a few tips for getting ahead


Be boring 

“This is not the place for self-expression, flamboyance or eccentricity,” was the message from the recent ‘What Not to Wear’ fashion show, held by The Chicago Bar Association. Our recruiter sources confirmed that what’s true in the States is true over here. “The law is still a conservative profession,” said one. “When you’re trying to get a job, you should play it safe.” A job interview isn’t the time for rebellion or youthful experimentation.

For the boys…

It’s simple. Wear a suit, and preferably a dark one. Try it on in advance to make sure it stills fits and doesn’t need to be dry-cleaned, steamed or pressed. Match that with a light coloured shirt (ironed!) and a nice tie (well tied). “Absolutely no cardigans” was also the advice from one recruiting source who had obviously seen one too many hopefuls turn up looking like Preston from The Ordinary Boys. Finally, set the whole look off with newly cleaned/polished shoes and a tidy hairstyle. If you’re normally Captain Cockatoo then calm it down for the day. You don’t have to become a choirboy, but a whole tub of wax on your barnet is not going to impress the interviewers.

And for the girls…

Shockingly, it’s simple too, if you ignore all the fashionista style guides, that is. WhileVogue’s spring trends bang on about ‘thigh high to knicker-skimming shorts’ and ‘underwear as outerwear,’ following them is one way to guarantee a rejection letter arriving on the doormat.

Suit up or shut up 

“Girls aren’t wearing suits – they should be,” complained one recruiter. Tulip skirts and big shoulders are out. Like the boys, wear a suit and shirt/blouse/discreet top, checking they’re clean and fit well. But not too well. Looking “too sexy” is the ultimate sin. “Cleavage is not a corporate look.”

Skirt: the issue

Skirts should be to the knee(ish) and not too tight. “With some girls you can see their pants when they sit down,” says one recruitment source. Yikes! If your bare legs are out then so might you be, so always invest in a pair of tights (probably plain, definitely new(ish). Snags, runs and bobbly bits are a no no.

Hair today gone tomorrow

Maybe you have beautiful tresses that reach down to your seat. Maybe they’re your pride and joy. Maybe all your friends are jealous of their lustrous-ness. And maybe it’s time to cut them off? This is a controversial statement that not everyone will agree with, but we’ve come across trainees who were recommended to do just that. If you’re male and this subject relates to you, be aware that while some people will have no issue with your locks, many others will. We’re giving you the safest, most cautious advice. There are a lot of sacrifices that you might be asked to make as a lawyer and getting a do that looks like all the other drones is one you might not have considered.

Even if you don’t fit the above description, danger lurks atop your scalp. “Brush your hair!" said one exasperated source. Think carefully about the style too. Nothing too scary or outlandish. “Brushing it all over to one side is a big no-no,” says another recruiter.

Shoe clues 

“Some girls can’t even walk in their shoes,” commented one recruiter. Most agree that lower heels are the way to get ahead. But make sure they’re low key too – no open-toes. We can’t promise that all law firms pay attention to this, but there’s at least one City firm that warns its female trainees about the perils of toe cleavage. Unfamiliar with this particular term? So were some of the male members of the Student Guide team. We looked it up on Wikipedia, which told us rather more than we wanted to know, and can only conclude that toe cleavage is best avoided.

Jewel do fine 

Keep jewellery simple and to a minimum. “Wearing a string of pearls does not make you smart.”

A breath of fresh air 

Don’t leave the people you meet gasping for fresh air. Fact: some interviewees smell bad, either because they haven’t bathed well enough or bacteria in the mouth has run riot. Avoiding the first problem requires advance planning; a pongy bouche can be sorted out by keeping a pack of mints to hand. Be careful with gum as you might forget to remove it until it’s too late.


“Dress for the job you want – not the job you have,” was the advice given to Jennifer Aniston’s character in Picture Perfect. So, the advice is simple – wear a suit, wear a shirt, brush your hair and polish your shoes. Leave the Zoolander-style face off till the weekend.


This feature was first published in our April 2010 newsletter.