You're qualified and capable, smart and friendly and seemingly an all-around great job candidate, but -- ohmygosh -- what is the deal with the mud on your shoes? Did you just dig a grave before the interview?
Botch the details of your interview outfit, and your prospective employer may be too distracted to hear your flawless explanation of why you should work for her. Nail the whole look, however, and she may see it as a complement to your candidacy. "If the [candidate] looks well put-together, a lot of times that translates into how much attention to detail that person pays in their everyday life," says Tonya Wells, author of "What to Wear to Your Job Interview" and president and executive recruiter of Ally Resource Group.
But don't perfect the details of your look solely to impress your interviewers. "We feel better when we look good," says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas "We have an additional shot of confidence when we know we're on our game."
What better time to feel confident than on interview day? Below are common ways your interview outfit can be distracting and how to avoid them.
Interview Outfit Distractions
Your hair. If it's wet or overly gelled, moused, sprayed or scrunched, it's not a good look, Gottsman says. And be mindful of dandruff issues, Wells adds. "It's really distracting when you're interviewing someone, and every time they move their head around, there's a little puff cloud coming out from around their head," she says. If you can't limit dandruff, she suggests camouflaging it by wearing a light suit.
Your shoes. "Your suit can be impeccable, but if your shoes are unkempt, or the heels are covered in mud or chewed down, it's a sign of a lack of attention to detail," Gottsman says. "And that translates to your work habits." Size matters, too, so ladies, skip the towering high heels to avoid face-planting during an interview or wobbling like an uncoordinated baby giraffe. In fact, Wells suggests sticking to heels under about 3 inches. Go easy on the bright colors and busy patterns, she adds. Like 6-inch heels, they can "draw the eye downward," she says. "You want them staring at your face -- not your shoes." Now that they're staring at your face ...
Your makeup. "Makeup is a big factor," Gottsman says. "Does that mean that if you don't wear makeup you're not capable or brilliant? Absolutely not." Even so, she advises adding something subtle, like a swipe of blush and tinted lip gloss. "It just shows you took the time to present yourself one step above a Saturday, when you can just hang out and wash the car," she says. If you skew the other direction and typically wear heavy makeup, remember that you want the interviewer focusing on your brilliant answers -- not your winged eyeliner or red lipstick. Strike a balance with Gottsman's advice: "If you have to wonder, 'Is this too much?' then the answer is 'yes,' and you need to tone it down a few shades," she says "If you have to ask, 'Is this not enough?' then you might want to add a little bit of blush."
Your nails. "It's a simple step to walk into the interview with impeccable nails," Gottsman says. For men, that means your nails are cut short, with no dirt underneath. For women, "a nice polish will never work against you," she says. "That one little detail says, "'OK, that means she took some time.'" As for what color polish, Gottsman suggests something subtle, like a neutral hue. Avoid chipped or multicolored nails, she says, as well as artwork, gems, glitter and particularly dark or bright colors. Even if your navy manicure looks fabulous, your interviewer should be wondering where you'll fit on the org chart -- not where you you get your nails done.
Your jewelry. Think twice before donning your oversized statement necklace, dangling earrings or stack of jangling bangles. These pieces can be distracting, Wells says, so when in doubt, stick with simple jewelry that matches the rest of your outfit.
Your ill-fitting outfit. No part of your outfit should be "too" of anything, Gottsman says. Trousers shouldn't be too short or long. Skirts and dresses shouldn't be too skimpy or tight. Suit jackets and shirts shouldn't be too big or small. Again, the interview is about you and the potential employer, not the awkward tugging you have to do with your skirt.
Your coffee stain. Yes, it's exactly as noticeable as you think it is. Even if you do everything else right, any kind of visible stain will make you look disheveled. "It's difficult to focus on anything else once you notice an obvious spot on someone's shirt," Gottsman says. Skip the ketchup with your lunch before the interview, and overall, be careful. A few tips below will help you appear squeaky clean, too.
Tips to Pull Off This Put-Together Look
Try on your interview outfit a week in advance. Indulge in a little fashion show, and you may save yourself from the faux pas above. ("Oh, that's right, I spilled tea on my pencil skirt last time I wore it." Or, "Yikes, this suit used to fit much better before the holidays." Or, "Huh, these pants drag on the floor when I wear them with these shoes.") Better to make these happy little discoveries a week in advance rather than the morning of the interview, so you have time to pivot. "If you give yourself a week, then you're not rushed," Gottsman says.
Assemble an emergency kit for interview day. Must-haves for your car, purse or briefcase include a wrinkle-releasing spray, a to-go spot remover and a tiny sewing kit and safety pin if -- oh, no -- the hem of your pants or skirt falls out, Gottsman says. Also in the kit: a travel-sized bottle of mouthwash and, for the ladies, a tube of lip gloss.
Check yourself out as soon as you arrive at the interview space. When you get to the office for your interview, Wells advises finding a restroom for one more look in the mirror. Tame hair that may have been warped by the elements, check your teeth for food and lipstick and do whatever else you need to do to "make sure everything is in place," she says.
Now that you look great, you can focus on nailing this interview. As Gottsman puts it: "If we have a little makeup on, or we have clothes we're not having to tug at, or if we're not trying to conceal a spill on our shirt, we can spend more time relating and focusing on the conversation and not worrying about concealing or hiding a misstep."
Laura McMullen is the Careers editor at U.S. News and was previously a Health + Wellness reporter. You can follow her on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn, circle her on Google+ or email her at email@example.com.