What not to wear or bring to a job interview

No, I am not going to write again about wearing fancy jewelry to an interview.  That seems to be a sensitive subject and as one woman wrote, emotion sometimes takes over and the message gets lost.  But the question has been asked, and as always I am happy to provide an honest real-world answer.

The question which I have been asked is, Is there anything else (besides Hope Diamond-class rings) that should not be worn to a job nterview?  To that I add, “or bring.”

You smell nice

It has always been my understanding that the French invented perfume because they did not want to bathe.  Saying to someone, “You smell nice,” may appear to be a compliment, but what entices one person’s olfactory senses may repel someone else.  Why smell at all?

Yes, I know, the theory is that because humans react strongly to smell, as I believe all mammals do, it’s a good way to catch a mate.

Well, if you are going on a job interview to get a mate, you have more problems than just looking for a job.

I don’t remember all of the bad interviews I have ever had with candidates but the ones that I do remember most vividly are the ones that I ended quickly because I was literally sickened to be in the candidate’s presence, and the amount of time it took to air out the room!

In a job interview you should not smell at all.  No perfume.  No cologne.  No scented after shave.  There is no reason to have any odor in an interview, and just because you and your friends think you smell nice does not mean the interviewer will.  Nothing scented.

Smoking can kill you in more ways than one

One good thing about the ordinances against smoking in public buildings is that it has been a while since I, or rather my nose, has confronted a smoker.  But it is still relevant for some people.

I don’t care how much rinsing a smoker does with mouthwash, or how many breath mints they consume, smoke does not just get in your eyes, it gets in your clothes.

If you are a smoker, take your interview clothes to the dry cleaner.   On the day you pick them up, take your car to the car wash and get an interior wash and dry.  Make certain there is no odor.  And before you leave for the car wash, clean out a closet of anything that smells and could smell (the smoker probably will not be able to tell) of smoke.  Then soak down the closet with a good air freshener.

When you get home, keep the clothes in the plastic, put them in the clean closet, and only remove them when it is time for the interview.  And one more thing, quit smoking!

The sounds of silence

We have dealt with smell, now comes sound.

I cannot tell you how many times employers have complained to me that throughout an interview a candidate’s pockets, bags, what-have-yous, were ringing, buzzing and humming.  Turn off, not mute or silence, turn off all of your electronic devices.

It is annoying when they go off.  It is devastating when the candidate cannot find the offending device or is unable to turn it off.  It’s obviously because of nerves but, if that is what happens in an interview, it may be an indication of how you will respond in an important, stressful meeting.  Not a good mental picture to paint.

By all means, bring a pen and paper.  Take notes.  But if you are taking notes on a device, especially your phone, employers/interviewers will not know if you are, in fact, taking notes or texting.  Go old school.

The only sound an interviewer should hear is the enchanting rhapsody of your voice.

Next comes sight.

I don’t want to see that

The first point is easy: don’t fidget.  It’s a sign of being nervous.  And an interview is nerve racking.  Everyone knows that.  If you are a woman who plays with her hair or a man who plays with his beard, hold your hands.  And if you have a piece of jewelry that you fidget with, or anything else for that matter, leave it at home.  You want to send the message to the interviewer that in pressure situations you never let the other side see you sweat.

There is an old saying, “You only get one chance to make a first good impression.”  That is not so.  If the first impression is based on a fact the interviewer could not possibly know, you will get a second chance.

Case in point:  I had an interview with a candidate for an IT position.  When I approached him, he was holding his cell phone up against his nose.  The collar of his shirt was unbuttoned.  His tie was loose and crooked.  When I put out my hand he stared at it for a moment and then gave me a “dead fish” handshake.  I was not impressed.

Of course, when we sat down for the interview, and right at the beginning he told me that he was legally blind, my initial impression was replaced with one of deep respect, admiration and curiosity as to how he could do his work.  And, yes, I submitted him.

Now despite the fact that, based on the reaction to my previous posts, a lot of job seekers don’t think that interviewers look at them and judge them accordingly, and a lot of interviewers don’t want job seekers to know that they look at them, they do, and there are some things they do not want to see.

For women, and there is nothing new here, a lot of people, men and women, are turned off when a women comes to an interview showing off her physical attributes.

For men, cleavage is not a problem, it’s their shoes.  Dirty shoes send a very bad message.  It makes the person look sloppy.  Clean your shoes.  (Of course, this is true for women but, in all honesty, I have never seen a woman wearing dirty shoes, weather aside.)

In general, for both men and women, my rule is to always err on the side of conservative.  Depending on the job for which you are applying, always dress one step up for the interview.  And, no, this does not mean that a man who will be wearing a suit at work should wear a tuxedo to the interview, or a woman an evening dress.

I was teaching a class of tradesmen – carpenters, electricians, plumbers – and when I suggested that they wear a nice pair of slacks and a collared shirt to a job interview, there was no objection.  Then I said they might want to wear a tie.  They laughed.  They stopped laughing when one of their classmates said that he got his last job because he had worn a tie.  He had been one of a good dozen or so candidates.  He was hired.  On his first day he asked his new boss why he had chosen him and not one of the others (all of whom had to have had more experience than he because he was just getting started).  The response, “You were the only one wearing a tie.”

Just as an aside, and I know it is silly, but when I was a fundraiser meeting with the affluent, both male and female, I was regularly complimented on my pen.  It looks (I still have it) fancy but it was hardly expensive.  I don’t remember what I paid for it, but I bought it at Staples.  The point is that they noticed and complimented me on it.  You never know what will attract someone’s eyes or how.

My point is that interviewers will remember what they smell, what they hear, and what they see.  (They also remember what they feel so make sure you give everyone a firm handshake to send a message of confidence.)  Think about the message you send when making every decision regarding your appearance and demeanor.

Why not share your experiences in the Comments section?


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor.  His posts on LinkedIn have been read over a quarter of a million times and have garnered international media attention.   In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.  An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies.