So many of the impressions we give other people come from visual cues. Even so, body language, gestures, and tone of voice connect with our clothing style and fit. Combining all of these elements puts you way ahead of the pack. Many people think that your resume is the key to a great position, but it’s not. Your resume is the key to an interview, but the impression you give is what makes you or breaks you.

Picture this: You have an interview Monday morning. Your resume is up to date, cover letter revised, and you are confident your research of this particular company will enable you to speak insightfully on up-to-the-minute developments. You’re ready, right?

Nope! What are you going to wear? More important, what is your attire going to say about your work ethic? 

Pressed khaki trousers and a button-down Oxford shirt are great if you are applying for a customer-service position. A pinstriped shirt, no tie, wool gabardine trousers, and coordinated sport coat are ideal for an entry-level management or non-financial sales rep position. For most “white collar” positions, a dark suit, white shirt, and a conservative, appropriate tie will do. For a top executive, it is all about the details: best fit, fabric, grooming, with matching accessories and shoes.

It makes sense to dress your best for an interview, regardless of the organization’s dress code. If ever in doubt of how to dress for an interview, lean towards conservatism. It is always better to be overdressed than underdressed–or undressed for that matter. Really, skin is not in for most types of interviews.

The fit of your clothing is another important aspect of dressing for success. Clothing that is too tight or too loose is completely unattractive and incredibly unflattering. Ladies, do not be sexy. Leave the miniskirts and cleavage for the club. Guys, pull up your pants. Put a belt on where it’s intended to be, not half way down your rear end. Dressing appropriately for your body means wearing clothing that fits you correctly. You don’t want to look like a stuffed sausage or a child wearing a parent’s clothes. Always look twice! Make sure your trousers don’t “pool” or “break” over your shoes. You don’t want your suit to strain or pull anywhere, and it should follow the natural line of your shoulder. Dressing this way is not only comfortable but also much more appealing to a future employer.

Color affects employers as well because it conveys a symbolic message and produces an emotional reaction. You have the right to choose whatever colors you like. But they do influence the statement you are making about yourself and suggest how you may or may not fit into a company. You should always wear colors that suit your skin tone. This makes you look alive and vibrant, while others can make you look drawn and tired.

Most job seekers head straight for black for their first interview. Black suggests authority but may be too powerful too early. Save it for the final interview when you most likely will meet with senior management. Navy blue is a good choice for a first interview because it implies confidence, and blue stands for loyalty. Red is a bold choice but could be appropriate for a sales position because is signals aggressiveness. Muted red would be more suitable than dynamic red. Pink is feminine and is associated with romance, friendship, and softness. Although popular, this could be a risky choice. I say pink is an option only after you’ve landed the job. It is important to show off your style, but your style should not overpower you.

Excellent grooming shows that you respect yourself. If you are a believer in the latest scents, minimize the amount you use. Too much is offensive to most and has no place in the office. Your nails should be clean and well manicured. Ladies, please leave the lengths not from this universe, unnatural colors, and decals to the kids. Your hair should be clean and brushed or combed. Women with long hair should have a professional sleek style. Make sure your clothing is crisp and pressed. Bring mints along instead of chewing gum. And absolutely NO smoking before the interview!

Finally, remember that your attitude is one of your strongest assets. Look and act like someone the other person can connect with personally. Look like you want to be there, have enthusiasm, and smile!