People First HR Services

Professional image reflects who you are

Colleen Coates

With the flood of new grads entering the workforce this spring, it seems a suitable time to discuss dressing for success. For the rest of us (ahem), a refresher course probably wouldn’t hurt, either.

Whether you’re going for a job interview, going out on a date or going to the bank for a loan, it’s important to look the part. Like it or not, appearances definitely matter and people will make instant assumptions about you based on how you dress. While you can’t judge a book entirely by its cover, you can’t dismiss the power of first impressions.

Sue Kathler, vice-president of HR consulting for People First, coaches men and women on how to dress for success.

“I always advise using sound judgment and try to find out in advance what’s acceptable at the place where you are interviewing,” Kathler says. “If you are unsure, it is best to dress professionally, erring on the side of conservative in terms of colour and style. It is better to arrive overdressed than underdressed.”

Among the key pointers Kathler gives, she suggests that shoes be clean and in good shape, and jewelry, like makeup, should be kept to a minimum. Personal hygiene and grooming is a must, including clean teeth, fresh breath, manicured nails and combed hair.

“It’s important to take the time for proper grooming and dressing. While this may sound obvious, you would be surprised by the amount of men and women who fail to pay attention to the smallest details, which are usually the simplest to fix.”

Kathler also stresses how important it is for people to scope out their prospective workplace — understanding the workplace norms and showing up appropriately attired can have a substantial impact on the success of the interview and the candidate’s feeling of confidence. Not everyone projects confidence naturally, and there are other ways to naturally boost your confidence — not only when walking into a job interview, but in all areas of your life:

— Put effort into your appearance. Take the time for a basic grooming routine and always dress appropriately. A good rule of thumb is to wear clothes that wouldn’t make you embarrassed to run into someone you want to impress — particularly when you are in job-search mode — you never know where or when you may run into a potential employer.

— Get active. No need to buy a gym membership to exercise; just get into a 15-minute daily routine that gets your blood pumping. In no time, you’ll start to feel good and the endorphins released will boost your confidence.

— Set goals — and meet them! By starting to make and accomplish small goals, you’ll be able to increase your confidence and move on to bigger ones. Sleep in too much? Make a goal of waking up earlier. Days too unorganized? Create a check list of things to do and stick with it.

— Discover something new. We are constant learners by nature, so by picking up a new skill, taking a class or learning something from a book or online video, we’re feeding that intrinsic need to keep challenging yourself and growing mentally.

— Take stock of your successes. Think back to life moments when you were successful. Write them down in a journal to revisit them when you need a boost. Realizing you can succeed will create a positive, “yes-I-can” type of self-assurance.

They say that 55 per cent of another person’s perception of you is based on how you look. The good news is that it is quite possible to look your best for a job interview without having to drop a bundle on new attire. If you are in job search mode now, here are a few tips on what to wear when you’re expecting (the job):

— Solid coloured, conservative suit.

— White, long-sleeved shirt (for men), or a co-ordinated blouse (for women).

— Professional, polished shoes (no towering heels).

— Limited jewelry.

— Avoid any perfume or aftershave.

— Portfolio or briefcase with a copy of your resumé.

— A smile.

Long after the interview process is over, what you wear to work continues to matter. According to the latest People First Compensation Survey for Manitoba Employers, 20 per cent of organizations allow employees to dress casually every day of the week, down from 33 per cent in 2008. Half of the organizations surveyed say they continue to have casual Fridays, down from 75 per cent in 2008. As you can see, the trend is moving back to more formal business dress at work. This is good to keep in mind when planning your career wardrobe as much as for your future success. Like the old saying goes, always dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

— With reporting by Barbara Chabai


Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at




Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 H2