You look like a piece of chewed-up bubble gum. Let’s face it, as veterans enter the world of corporate America, we often look like cheap used car salesmen. Can’t blame us. Most veterans left the civilian world right out of high school and were told what to wear from 0600 to 1730. Hell, if you deployed, you existed for up to 18 months without having to wonder if your shoes went with your shirt. So here you are, metamorphosing, into a dirty civilian, adult version. All this without ever having dressed as an adult. Fear not, we’re here to teach you how to dress for an interview and build a transition ready wardrobe.
It’s time to drop off those Tap-Out shirts and Old Navy polos at the Goodwill. Come along as we explore the exciting world of acceptable civilian attire.
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- 9 Tips on How to Dress for an Interview
- Men’s Checklist
- Women’s Checklist
- What to Wear to Work
- The Four Types of Dress Code for the Workplace
9 Tips on How to Dress for an Interview
So, you’ve crafted that perfect military to civilian resume, read all the advice on not screwing up your job search, and have begun targeting specific industries or companies based on your interest and skills.
You probably still dress like an adolescent.
Putting together a business ready wardrobe can be a daunting task – one you shouldn’t start blind. Whether you are targeting a specific company or industry, it’s important to understand what “uniform” the employees of said company and/or industry are wearing. If you came up in the military at about the same time as me, you’ll recall learning the SALUTE report in Basic Training. Remember what the “U” stood for? If you said UNIFORM, congrats.
Here are some tips on how to figure out what to wear for the interview.
I’m not telling you to set up a hide-site in the corporate HQ parking lot, but hey it’s not a bad idea. Instead, do some internet stalking to get an idea of what the culture and expectations are. Most companies have profiles on myriad company review sites. Others have this right on their own website.
2. Connect With the Hiring Recruiter
This is a two birds one stone situation. You get a chance to connect with folks looking for talent. And you get to ask important questions about dress code, and work culture. Bonus points for other important bits, like if they have a Ping Pong table and free Kombucha.
3. Phone a Friend
Chances are you have a 1st or 2nd connection that works in the company or industry you are targeting.
Ask them: “What do people wear to interviews at your company? What do folks wear on the first day? What is the day to day uniform?
With your SALUTE report partly filled out, you can make some informed decisions when you head to the mall.
4. Dress Up
Rule of thumb: for an interview, dress one or two levels higher than the role you are interviewing for. This leads me to the next tip.
5. When in Doubt – Suit Up
Some things never go out of style – like a well-tailored suit.
Nothing says “I’m all grown up” like owning one. For a real versatile wardrobe, you’re going to need at least 2, plus a few other things (we’ll get to that later). Up until now, you’ve most likely had 2 experiences getting “fitted” for a suit. Once, a rental for your buddy’s destination wedding in Myrtle Beach. The other time was when you were being shuffled through CIF for your Class As. Which, by the way, still fits. Even after you’ve gained 40 pounds over a 20 year career.
6. Make Sure the Fit Is Appropriate
For the love of God, wear clothes that fit, wear clothes as intended, i.e. pants above your a**. Nothing says, NOT PREPARED like walking in with ill fitted clothing. Your first impression shouldn’t be – “his father’s wardrobe is trash”.
Newsflash! The rental guy and the basic training seamstress didn’t have your best interest in mind. They weren’t very good either.
For a good fit, you MUST consider seeing a Master Tailor; someone with at least 5 or 7 years of experience.
Alex Rodriguez, “A-Rod” (no, not that A-Rod), the founder of Salute2Suit, a Las Vegas based couturier that serves the military and veterans with affordable, modern, and tailored wardrobes, has this advice:
“A good tailor gets to know his customer and does so by asking the following questions: What is the dress code? What do you currently have in your closet? And; Is your preference conservative, fashion-forward, or trendy?”
An added benefit to seeking help through a professional is, it takes a lot of the thinking out of it. A-Rod says, most people, men anyway, hate to shop. They don’t have time. They struggle to string outfits together and have trouble distinguishing colors. These elements create a negative experience. This leads to the veteran buying off the rack without thinking things through. The result? Wasteful wardrobes that don’t even look good. A professional will help educate you while building your wardrobe.
7. Stay Away From Black
While a black suit has its allure and is good for many occasions, an interview ain’t it. Go with a suit in a solid, more welcoming color like navy or grey.
8. Wear Conservative Accessories
Look, we know you are your own person; yet, during an interview might be the best time to hide the crazy. They don’t need to know that you’re a cat person by looking at your tie or socks. When we say “be bold”, we mean to limit your bold colors to power ties or scarfs.
9. Bonus Tip from the Expert
“Humans are hardwired to gather information about a new person in under 7 seconds. From the first hand-shake we’re looking for eye-contact, facial hair, jewelry, fragrance, and what a person is wearing from the neck down. Black is just too severe to make a good first impression. A black suit indicates to the interviewer that the interviewee didn’t care enough to consider more welcoming colors.” Alex Rodriguez
How to Dress for an Interview Men Checklist
⃞ Navy suit
⃞ Medium grey suit
⃞ Crisp white shirt with straight collar
⃞ Black chino pants
⃞ Khaki chino pants
⃞ Navy blazer
⃞ Black leather shoes or boots with matching belt – no square toes
⃞ Brown leather shoes or boots with matching belt – no square toes
⃞ Pale blue collared shirt
⃞ Nice blue jeans
How to Dress for an Interview Women Checklist
⃞ Navy or medium grey suit
⃞ Silk blouse
⃞ Crisp white button down
⃞ Black pants
⃞ Pencil skirt
⃞ Black blazer
⃞ Short sleeved dress
⃞ Black or nude pumps
⃞ Black loafers
⃞ Cardigan sweater
⃞ Nice dark denim blue jeans
What to Wear to Work
So you’ve gotten a couple of interviews out of the way. Maybe you’ve accepted an offer. It’s time to get serious. First, let’s fill your duffle bag with the trash you’ve called clothes for a decade. Next, we’ll fill your closet with outfits that work for Corporate America.
Depending on how long it’s been since you joined the military, your take on fashion may need updating. When I left the civilian world, oversized sports coats and pleats were acceptable. Not so much anymore. Still don’t lose yourself in a “civilian costume”.
The Four Types of Dress Code for the Workplace
Know the difference between business formal, business professional, business casual, and casual.
1. Business Formal
Well-tailored suit and tie for men. Pantsuit or skirt paired with conservative accessories for women. Very conservative regardless of gender.
2. Business Professional
Still conservative and traditional but allows for some personality. Add some vibrant colors and jewelry. Incorporate mixed suits or even a cardigan. Men should still wear a tie.
3. Business Casual
Quality button up shirts, solid or patterned, worn with or without a sport coat or blazer. Polo shirts.
Stay professional! Clothes should be cleaned and pressed and fit your lifestyle. Casual button down shirts are appropriate as are jeans. Remember, even in a casual environment, you’re always expected to make a professional impression.
Tip from the expert – “Dress to accommodate and accentuate your own individuality”. He recommends leaning toward the classics, or what he likes to call “updated traditional”. Alex Rodriquez
If you’re thinking this sounds awfully expensive, I’m with you. But, it doesn’t have to be. True, you could go out and drop $10k on clothes that will gather moths in your closet. Or, you can plan to get what A-Rod calls an “Investment Dressing” wardrobe. That is one that can take you from business formal to business professional and so on. A good professional wardrobe allows you to create many combinations of outfits.
So whether you were looking for advice on assembling an arsenal of work clothes or looking for a few tips on appropriate interview attire – we’ve covered a lot of ground.
If you can, get help putting your wardrobe together. There are a lot of folks out there, including Salute2Suit that want to help. So suit up friends, you’re gonna look and feel like a million bucks. I guarantee it.