In a world in which we can control so little, there is plenty of reason to spend time on the one thing we do have control over: our personal appearance. this is especially true of Job seekers.  JT O’Donnell of details “10 Things Recruiters Won’t Tell You”and most of them have to do with appearance. To wit, here are the first two on her list:

  1. Your interview attire is outdated/messy/too tight/too revealing/too flashy.
  2. Your physical appearance is disheveled/outdated/sloppy/smelly/overpowering (e.g. too much perfume).

The third is: Your eye contact is weak/shifty/intense.

I’m going out on a limb here to guess that weak eye contact stems in part from a lack of confidence. One can become more confident when one feels well dressed and groomed. So in that sense, the third item is related to appearance.

A number of questions usually come up related to any post about appearance. These are the ones I normally hear:

  • Why should I have to conform to what the employer/society dictates?
  • Why can’t I just be myself?
  • What if I look too dressed up?
  • What constitutes a good appearance?

JT’s article confirms what I’ve read and learned over the years: that first impressions are lasting impressions. At a recent seminar with Eve Michaels , I learned that an impression is formed of someone within 30 seconds. To change that impression would take 45 minutes of conversation.

If the initial impression is negative, how likely is it that you’ll get 45 minutes to change the initial impression? Not very.

Now, people may say “but look at Susan Boyle – she didn’t have to look great to wow people on Britain’s Got Talent!” She’s the exception that proves the rule, in my opinion. Susan Boyle had the advantage of a fantastic voice that was apparent within five seconds of her opening her mouth. It took her getting through the entire song flawlessly for the audience and judges to be won over. To me, the really interesting thing is that Susan Boyle now has gotten her hair cut and colored, and is wearing immensely more flattering clothing. Like many women, she was dying for a makeover and took full advantage of the opportunity presented by her amazing talent.

Few of us have such talent and even fewer of us will be selected to appear on American Idol or America’s Got Talent or a similar venue where we can show we are the swan in ugly duckling attire. We depend on making a great initial impression so that people will want to continue talking with us.

Our image is part of our communication tool box. You can have a professional image that still is “you” when you

  • Pay attention to the colors and styles that look best on you
  • Become familiar with what is acceptable dress for the industry in which you work
  • Add your personality through accessories, like a great necklace or a scarf

How can you figure out what looks best on you?

Magazines are a great source of information and inspiration – as long as you avoid adopting fads that don’t suit you. Friends may tell you what looks best on you. You probably have an innate sense of what works on you. I know I have my mom’s voice in my head and she’s right. I really want to look good in a full-skirted dress, but my figure just won’t support it. I am best in sheath dresses.

As far as colors go, I like to go to Old Navy and stand by the mirror with a stack of the T-shirts that come in every imaginable color. Holding each one up to my chin, I assess whether my skin looks bright and glowing next to the color – or if I look washed out and dull. I like to look at certain colors but they just don’t work for me as far as clothing. Rather than fight that reality, I surrender to it and wear colors that I know look good on me.

Regarding makeup, I advise at least mascara and a lip color or gloss. Obviously, there are women who don’t wear any makeup. That’s OK, even if you want a job where you represent the company publicly – as long as you know you will need to impress the interviewer with your confidence and presentation skills. Without makeup, you’re at a certain disadvantage because the presumption is that women need to wear makeup to be public representatives. It’s just the way it is.

The real message here is that – like it or not – appearance matters in this world of speedy transactions and exchanges of information. Pay as much attention to your appearance at an interview as you do to preparing your resume and cover letter. You can control these things, so why wouldn’t you?