Job interview: the importance of dress code and body language

The saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” This rings true because much of our decision-making process is informed by our subconscious evaluations and the emotions they elicit—be it favorable or unfavorable.

When you walk into an interview, you can generally expect the interviewer to be a receptive individual, open to examining your candidacy and professional trajectory. Nonetheless, making a positive first impression sets a conducive tone for the interview and avoids creating any initial tension that could make the entire conversation more challenging.

Dress to Impress

Your attire should always align with the industry you work in. In situations where time is of the essence and gaining a strategic edge is crucial, details matter. Indeed, clothes “make the monk.” Dressing too formally for an interview at an informal, young, and innovative startup could send the wrong message. However, caution should not be thrown to the wind. For such interviews, opting for smart casual attire—perhaps jeans and a shirt—strikes the right balance.

On the flip side, if your interview is in a formal setting like a bank, asset management firm, or insurance company, a formal outfit is always welcomed. As a general rule, consider dressing like your current manager when they attend formal events. Doing so is likely to align with the expectations of your interviewer, who will probably appreciate a similar dress code and may even hold a level of seniority comparable to your current manager. This creates an impression that you’re a growing professional, capable of contributing skills beyond the average of your peers.

Mastering Non-Verbal Communication

While it’s well-known that a significant percentage of “empathetic” human communication is non-verbal, lesser importance is given to voice tone and rhythm, and even less to the actual words. Although focusing excessively on body language (mostly an unconscious process) is not advised, adopting specific cues can help prevent incongruities between what you’re saying and how you’re physically presenting yourself.

The most fundamental rule is simple: remember to smile. This small action can put your interviewer at ease and help you relax. Typically, the more comfortable you feel, the more likely you are to make eye contact. Reciprocally, maintaining eye contact can boost your own comfort level, emanating a sense of calm, confidence, and control.

While aligning your verbal and non-verbal communication is crucial—for instance, nodding when agreeing and shaking your head when disagreeing—take cues from your interviewer’s body language. Are they fast or slow in their movements? Do they speak rapidly or weigh each word? Mimic (without overdoing it, of course) their non-verbal cues to build emotional rapport.

Cultural Sensitivity and Tuning In

It’s also worth noting that people from Northern Europe typically use fewer gestures than those from Southern Europe. Gauge your interviewer’s non-verbal communication style and adjust your own gestures accordingly.

By paying attention to these nuances, you’ll have high-impact allies to transform your next job interview into a surefire success.

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