Get the right look : Dressing for your interview

By Tan Su-Fern

We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected for an interview.” This is it! The opportunity you’ve been waiting for! You scream, pump your arms in the air and then promptly fall to the ground as waves of nausea pass through your body, thanks to the sudden onslaught of stomach butterflies.

What happens next? What do I need to do? What do I need to know? How do I prepare for this interview? What should I wear? These are probably just a few of the many questions that are crashing through your head.

Admittedly, an interview, be it for a scholarship or for a job, is a lot about showmanship. It’s about presenting yourself to a panel of people who don’t know you from Adam and impressing them so much so that they’ll fall off their chairs while presenting that scholarship to you on a silver platter.

It’s a race against time, a ‘How quickly can I engage my interviewer with my effervescent personality and wow him with my superb intelligence?’ kind of game. Only in this game, you’re on your own because there’s no one else in there to help make you look and sound good, and you really need to come out smelling like roses.

You’ve probably heard the old adage that goes – Just be yourself. Don’t get me wrong, this is all good and sound advice. However, it’s not going to get you anywhere if being yourself means being dressed in scruffy jeans, your Linkin Park t-shirt, and slippers.

But fret not. There is hope even if your prom dress and tux is the only formal clothes you’ve got in your wardrobe right now. Here are some tips to bring you up to speed and get you to where you need to be.


The basics are very important. You need to look groomed and put-together. Hair should be neat. This does not mean you need to gel your hair to your skull. Just ensure that your hair is tidy and in place, and not overgrown and flyaway.

Nails should be neatly trimmed. Guys, if you’re in the awful habit of leaving your pinky nail long, GET OVER IT AND CUT IT SHORT! Ladies, the nail polish should be left off. If you have to have some on, use a clear polish to give your nails a healthy shine or pick a nude shade of polish that doesn’t scream for attention.


This cannot be emphasised enough (hence the double use of ‘always’). Gentlemen, it’s trousers, a long sleeved shirt and tie for you. Remember that suit you wore to your Dinner & Dance? Just wear that sans the jacket.

Girls, a simple skirt and blouse combination will do. The whole idea is to look chic-smart, not dowdy-boring. Nothing flashy, which means no mini-skirts, no thigh-high slits and no funky patterns. Save that for the celebration party later when you’re awarded the scholarship.


Pick colours that are ‘safe’. White, navy blue, grey and black are conservative colours that look smart and chic on most people. Guys, you don’t have to wear solid colours if you don’t want to. A striped shirt or pin-striped trousers work just as well. Choose stripes that are narrow and subtle. You don’t want to end up looking like a confused zebra.

Also, watch out when matching your tie. You don’t want to match a vertically striped shirt with a polka-dotted tie or something horrendous like that. You want your interviewers to remember you for your panache and intelligence, not for your bad dress sense.


God forbid that you should forget to dress your feet for this momentous occasion. You’ve already got the outfit that says that you’re a smart and professional young adult, now you need the shoes to go with it. Guys, do not even attempt to pass off your well-worn Dr Martens as dress shoes. Or worse, wear black trainers with your outfit. Get a pair of proper dress shoes. It is imperative that your shoes complement your outfit. You will be surprised at how many people will notice if you have the wrong shoes on.

Ladies, a pair of simple covered court shoes will suffice. Leave the open-toed strappies at home; those are your party shoes. Your shoes should also match your outfit, i.e. don’t wear brown shoes with black trousers. It just looks like you don’t have a pair of black shoes to match. If that is indeed the case, go out and buy a pair of black shoes. You don’t need people to think that you only have one pair of shoes in your shoe closet.


Everyone knows that accessories can make or break an outfit. For the ladies, a necklace or bracelet can be a lovely accent. There’s no need to bring out Grandmother’s pearls. Just a choice piece that is simple and not huge or chunky. Jangling noisy jewellery is a definite no-no. Earrings should be kept simple and small (if you have multiple earrings, just wear one pair). Remember… nothing flashy.

Gentlemen, whatever the hottest fashion trend may be, earrings, bracelets or necklaces of any kind should be removed before the interview. While it is cool to be young and hip, it is best to err on the side of conservatism for the interview than to walk in to a panel of people whose jaws have hit the floor.

At this point, I suppose this is as good a place as any to mention that all facial jewellery (i.e. nose rings, lip rings, brow rings etc) should be removed lest the above-mentioned panel of people lose consciousness due to shock. When it comes to jewellery, less is definitely more.


If you’re bringing documents or papers of any kind to the interview, please make sure that you’re carrying a decent document case or bag. At the very least, you should have a presentable file. It is not chic for someone who is smartly dressed to be carrying a rucksack that looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since the early 1980s when the rucksack first became popular. Or worse, to be carrying his or her documents in a plastic or paper bag! Shudder.

Do not underestimate the importance of a presentable bag or document case. An understated bag is the perfect way to organize your documents and is also a good way of saying that you understand the importance of presenting yourself in an appropriate manner. Just stay away from the shiny mock crocodile leather briefcase.
Unless you’re someone who is in complete need of a fashion makeover (which I seriously doubt you are), you should be nodding and agreeing with the above points.

Getting dressed for any interview mostly involves the use of common sense. However, it does takes a tiny bit of your X factor to feature itself in your choice of dressing, to make your interviewers remember you just that bit more clearly. It might not seem like much but carrying yourself well, combined with the right dressing, goes a long way in making a good and lasting impression.

Of course, let’s not forget that beauty is only skin deep. You’ve already demonstrated that you have the brains. Now let your personality shine through – show the interviewers you have initiative, strength of character and a good sense of humour (hint: demonstrate the humour subtly, you don’t want to go overboard).

Take a deep breath, smooth down your clothes and square those shoulders. Walk into the interview room confidently and don’t forget to maintain eye contact with everyone. Smile to show that you’re friendly and that you’re comfortable with being interviewed.

So you’re all set to go now. Good luck; and don’t forget… NOTHING FLASHY!!!

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