I love speaking to young job seekers!  Although they sometimes have the reputation of being “know it all’s”, when it comes to job searching, they have a strong tendency to listen.  It’s interesting because I assume many of them have heard the time-tested tips on how to dress for an interview/job search.

It’s usually the same advice…” men, wear a dark suit, white shirt, and shiny black shoes.”  Of course, times have changed and every interview does not require a dark suit. In fact, many companies frown on this.  It’s considered too formal or old-fashioned. In this day of high tech, hoodie-wearing tech gurus, many are often confused about what to wear for an interview.   (My advice is to ask your contact at the company, before the interview, for advice on appropriate interview attire.)

I started thinking, after all the interviews I have given or received, what are the things that “young” job seekers are not hearing which could result in a lack of success during the interview process?  After much thought, I have identified seven major pitfalls which trip up many of these job seekers.  (These are applicable to both men and women under 45 years old.)

Before getting into the pitfalls, let me share some facts about the job search process…

33% of hiring managers decide in 90 seconds

According to Careerrealism, 33% of hiring managers make the hiring decision in the first ninety seconds of the interview.  As a job seeker, this is a scary thought.  We have all heard the adage, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression!” Considering that the first impression could be made in ninety seconds, that’s a lot of pressure!

Know your Professional Appearance Rating™

Everyone has a Professional Appearance Rating™ or PAR.  A PAR is based on four attributes:

1)      Your clothing

2)      Your grooming

3)      Your body condition

4)      Your body language

I encourage every job seeker to know his or her rating.

Job search from sun up to sun down

An active job search is a job from sun up to sun down. Every interaction is a potential interview situation.  This includes networking events, having coffee at the local coffee shop or even attending the kids’ soccer games.  You never know where an opportunity will present itself for your ninety seconds.

This does not mean wearing a suit to the grocery store to pick up a carton of milk; however, it does mean being presentable.  I encourage every job seeker to ask themselves when walking out of the house “am I appropriately dressed to make a favorable impression, on a potential decision maker, if the opportunity presents itself?”

Now that you have some background, here are the top seven pitfalls to avoid…

1) Poor clothing fit and style

There are two areas of dress which offer major pitfalls for young job seekers.  First, everyone is not Mark Zuckerburg!  Unless you are interviewing in a very relaxed environment, do not assume that a hoodie, jeans, and sandals are appropriate.  Second, if you need to suit up, don’t look like you are wearing your dad’s suit.  Baggy suits are gone.  You want to look young and professional.  Go for modern, trim fit styling.

If you can’t afford new clothes, at least take what you have to a tailor and ensure the best fit.  Not too baggy and not too tight.  Not too long and not too short.  It doesn’t matter if you are wearing a suit or slacks and a shirt, correct fit is essential!

young man baggy suit

2) Hairstyle

The first question to ask is if your style is “appropriate” for your desired work environment.  Clearly, some organizations have a very relaxed appearance policy.  While others don’t.  For those that aren’t very relaxed, is your hair neat?  If not, get a haircut or trim.  Men should always have a sharp line!

The challenge many young job seekers face is the need to balance what’s appropriate for the workplace against the desire to fit in socially.  Can’t tell you what to do except either 1) as which is most important or 2) seek advice from a hair stylist on the best way to balance a professional and social style.

hair cut

A touch of grey hair signals wisdom and experience.  Not recommending that you color your hair but I do offer this as words of encouragement for young people who are “prematurely grey.”  Don’t sweat it!  There are some advantages in the professional world.

3) Visible Tats

If you have tattoos, cover them up.  If you have piercings, take them out!  Of course, this depends on where you are interviewing.  As with any of my advice, these are “guidelines” not “rules.”  If you are interviewing with companies where these are the norm, no worries. In my opinion, standard piercings are earlobes for women.  For men, it’s become acceptable for ear piercings but I suggest not wearing the earrings on the interview.   Ear gauges are a problem!

However, unless you are 100% sure that tats and body piercings are acceptable, cover up the tats and remove the piercings.

Deal with your “freedom of expression” rights after you get the job!

tatooed man

4) Lack of attention to facial care (skin and hair)

Poorly maintained facial hair can be a major negative. Make sure mustaches, beards and all facial hair are well kept, neatly trimmed and groomed appropriately.

Excessive makeup can be a major distraction for ladies in projecting a professional look.  Not sure how to apply makeup to get the right look?  Two suggestions…1) Visit the makeup counter at a local retailer and ask for suggestions and 2) view the hundreds of makeup videos on YouTube for suggestions.

There are lots of great skin care products for men as well.  Guys, don’t get turned off because you are afraid of being labeled “metrosexual”.  This is about doing everything you can to present yourself in the best light possible.  Tip: check out some of the benefits of skin products containing retinol.  Even for young adults.  It is also highly recommended that men and women use SPF products.

5) “Unshakable” hands

We have already agreed that it takes only ninety seconds to make an impression in the job interview.  The first it the visual a hiring manager gets of you the candidate. The second occurs with the handshake.

A big mistake is giving the “limp fish” handshake.  It’s the shaking of another person’s fingers instead of their hand.  Men sometimes do this with women so they don’t do the “bone crusher” handshake. I’m never sure why women do it but either way, it is the “kiss of death” in the interview process.  Universally this is a turnoff to both men and women.  I’ve even been told that it’s offensive to some.  The question people ask is if the candidate is afraid to touch the interviewer.  This is an immediate turn-off.

Another turn off is dirty and/or sweaty hands. (The combination of both is a sure deal killer!)

6) Cologne/Perfume

This is an easy fix…don’t wear perfume or cologne if you will be in an enclosed space e.g. hiring managers office, conference room, etc.!

Soaps and body washes have enough scent in them for a clean, fresh smell.  Perfumes can be polarizing. Either loved or hated.  It’s not worth taking the chance that the smell will turn off a potential employer.  Potential employers may also be allergic to certain scents.

A lady recently shared her experience that an interviewer asked her to reschedule the interview because her perfume was too strong and he could not take the smell.  Do you think that interview was rescheduled? NO, it wasn’t!

7) Low self-confidence

Are you exuding confidence?  Hiring managers want people who are confident in themselves. Just because you are young and inexperienced, don’t minimize your value to an employer.  Your enthusiasm and energy can go a long way.

I remember interviewing for a position in Canada early in my career.  Although I didn’t get the position, a mentor shared that even though many of the other candidates were more highly qualified, I was the second choice.  My enthusiasm, energy, and confidence really impressed the hiring manager and moved me into serious contention for the role.

Use these four tips to project confidence…

1)      Make direct eye contact. (Don’t turn this into a “staring” or “who blinks first” contest.  That type of eye contact is creepy.)

2)      Display a confident smile.  (Smile not a big grin.)

3)      Offer a firm handshake.  (Firm, not limp or bone crushing.)

4)      Stand and sit erectly. (Shoulders back, head held high)

 confident young man

There you have it!  Those are seven pitfalls young job seekers should avoid.  Utilize these and your appearance will be one less barrier to landing that dream job.

Have you experienced any of these seven pitfalls as either a hiring manager or job seeker? Think there are other pitfalls that should be in the top seven? Disagree with the seven?  If so, share your experiences with others by leaving a comment.


Dressed Club is a member-based appearance advisory service.  Our Professional Appearance Advisers provide affordable, expert coaching in the areas of clothing, grooming, health and body language.  Dressed Club members make memorable impressions so they don’t miss opportunities.

Book a session here.

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