Dress for the job you want – not the one you have

by | Sep 21, 2015

Be promotion ready, even in our dress down culture

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression,"  so says the old adage.  This is supported by both science and everyday experience. Research from Harvard suggests that it can take 8 subsequent encounters to undo any negative first impression damage.  First impressions can be hasty and you may not even be aware that they are even being made!

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But in today's more informal dress down cultures is it still important to dress for the job you want?


I've recently been involved in a high level search where the client would like a gender balanced short list. Looking through online profile photos I realise how many women don't present themselves in the most powerful and authoritative way. It's high. One candidate had a reasonable profile, but was cut from the process because her photo showed her cleavage (lots of it) body tattoos (lots of them)  hanging out of a limo roof with a crowd of girls on a night out. Those images should be saved for face book. Or better still, not displayed in the public domain for anyone in a management role. Many people forget the dress for the job you want motto.

[Tweet "But what is important to note, she has no idea evaluation even took place."]


Rebecca is an events manager in London who has been headhunted for a Director level job. A petite 32 year old, who can look about 22,  she needed an assertive image that made her look authoritative without aging her. Her job is operational, so her every day wear is jeans and t-shirts.  After reading two 3Plus posts (How to be on trend with a professional dress code,  The power of a perfect pencil skirt) she has invested in a pencil skirt, tailored jacket and a good pair of court shoes, without breaking her budget. She happily reported she has a second interview.

Solange works in an NGO, in an organisation where jeans without holes would be considered formal attire. After completing her MBA she would like to join a corporate organisation. She now has to refresh and reposition her professional image to be in line with the Fortune 100 companies she is targeting. She has to factor in "dress for the job you want."

But take note. The reverse can also apply. You could be targeting a sector where a power suit would not be appropriate. Social and charity work come to mind. But once again you would have to be strategic about your role in the organisation and who you would be dealing with.

Pencil Skirt suit

Dress for the job you want

Unconscious judgements

It is so obvious some might say, yet it is not that uncommon when you actually look at hundreds of profiles a day and meet many women. So it's really important to dress for the job you want, not the one you have, and especially not the one you had years ago.

We have to accept that we are all judged both consciously and subconsciously on how we look.  [Tweet "So it's important to look promotion ready. "] Read: 5 simple steps to be promotion ready. In dress down cultures many women can be caught unawares, so always be sure to keep a jacket in the office for a  VIP meeting or unexpected summons to the bosses office. This is especially important if the promotion is internal.  It is not good to look casual all day, every day and then pitch up for your one off interview in a power suit.

[Tweet "You might complain that your bosses dresses casually - but they already have top jobs"]!

As any image consultant will tell you,  good quality, structured clothes are the best for every day professional wear. They maintain their shape and travel well.  Choose quality over quantity. You can always add a dash of your personality with accessories.

For those wishing to cultivate executive presence, appearance is listed as one of the main pillars behind the concept. It's all about making a great first impression. Women are faced with a double bind with appearance ranking as research in the European Union discovered, as the 3rd criteria for women in the recruitment process and 9th for men.

Professional photo

But above all, it's important to have a correct and professional photo, because you don't know if you are not being considered for a job simply based on your appearance. Today, LinkedIn profiles are the first port of call for recruiters before a resume, so the photo assumes an even greater significance.

Are you making the most of LinkedIn?  How to Make the Most of LinkedIn in 10 minutes a day

Read some of the articles below from 3Plus fashion contributor FashionJunkie and Image Consultant Claire Soper

Contact us if you need professional help with your image or interview preparation

Professional Image checklist – daily dos and don’ts

9 Professional Image Interview Tips for the 50 Somethings

Business upfront, party at the back – untucked shirts

Make your guilty pleasure an investment

Are you promotion ready?

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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