There’s no getting around it: Personal style is a big deal right now. Instagram is teeming with gorgeous fashion shots, and some people look like they’ve been dressed by an army of stylists every day. But what if you aren’t exactly a street-style star? Can that impact your ability to land a great job?
“The appearance of an applicant for a job in our company is the first thing I notice,” says board-certified dermatologist Jill Waibel, M.D., CEO and owner of The Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute.
While she encourages candidates to wear an outfit that makes them feel comfortable and great, she also notes that she’s dismissed well-qualified applicants who show up in an outfit that doesn’t seem to fit with her office environment.
And she’s not the only one.
“Aside from having experience and a friendly, energetic and confident attitude, I also look for candidates with unique style,” says certified dietitian-nutritionist Lisa Moskovitz, CEO of NY Nutrition Group. “I have to learn as much about the person as possible, and often the way they dress is one way to make a lasting, positive impression.”
Interestingly, some companies actually go out of their way to avoid being influenced by your outfit.
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Laura Campbell, senior director of talent for Etsy, says the company provides training to hiring managers to help them avoid the unconscious bias of judging candidates based on their appearance.
“There’s no real way to overcome this bias completely, but we’ve done a lot of thinking and training so that people who are going to conduct interviews are focusing really hard on skillset and not fashion,” she says.
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Of course, there’s no way to know if you’re applying for a job in an office where the manager has received this type of training. And if you’re looking for a gig in a traditionally conservative field, it’s probably better to err on the safe side.
“When people dress very professionally, even without any personal flair, it’s more transparent,” says John L. Williams, president and partner at The Williams Law Firm and president of IncNow.com. “You can really see through their words to who they are.”
So while channeling Amal Clooney for a paralegal interview might seem like a great idea, it’s probably best to save it for after the hiring process to avoid any chance your style will be a distraction.
It all boils down to: Know the brand you’re interviewing for, and dress appropriately. In some situations, staying conservative works in your favor. But in others, it’s O.K.—or even helpful—to add a little flair.