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Dress to impress: The interview

Career | Published 1 March, 2013 | By: Jennifer Beckles

Smart attire at interview is the first step towards making a lasting impression.

It’s well known that interviewers have pretty much made up their minds on whether you’re right for the job within a few minutes of meeting you. A large part of that first impression is based on what they actually see.

“At interview, I want to see clothes that show a candidate is professional, organised and focused,” says Laura Wynne, primary school headteacher. It’s also important to visit the school or look at the website to get a sense of the school’s ethos and dress accordingly: “Different schools have different styles. It’s important that your body language and appearance say: ‘I’ll fit in here’,” she adds.

John Howson, TES careers expert, agrees and adds that personality should come across in your attire, too: “Try to match professionalism with personality: neither overpowering nor boring. Recruiters can detect the person who understands teaching through his or her choice of appropriate, smart clothing, he says,” he says.

Jayne Halliwell, primary school headteacher feels that getting the right message across through well-chosen clothes is crucial. “If candidates arrive for interview looking casual, they leave me wondering if they would be just as sloppy in the classroom,” she says. “They must have a sense of occasion and this should be reflected by smart clothes such as suits, elegant blouses and shirts.”

Follow these guidelines to ensure that your outfit is working for and not against you:

  • Think conservative and wear a well-fitted suit of a solid, dark colour. It may sound boring, but interviewers want to see you looking professional. If the price of a suit is out of your budget range, look out for sales and use the internet to find the best bargains. Remember though, that the suit must fit you well, so try it on and make sure it complements your body shape.
  • If you have decided to splash out on a classic interview suit, remember to remove all the labels. The interviewers’ last memory of you shouldn’t be marred by a white tag hanging out from your jacket collar.
  • Comfort is crucial, so make sure that you can move around with ease. Check that you can sit down and stand up comfortably at all times.
  • Add individuality to an otherwise plain appearance by choosing a blouse/shirt that expresses your personality. An important rule to remember is not to go over the top. You might describe yourself as outgoing and bubbly, and a glittery top might just reflect that, but it won’t look right at interview.
  • Interviewers want to focus on what you are saying, not on the unusual earrings dangling from your ears, so keep accessories to the minimum.
  • By all means wear a light scent, but don’t douse yourself in perfume as this will be overpowering in a small interview room.
  • Choose a hair cut that flatters your face, or if you want to keep your hair long, wear it up or back for a professional clean look.
  • Men should definitely save gimmicky socks and wacky ties for another occasion. Aim for elegance and choose neutral/complementary colours for socks and ties.
  • Women, use make-up in moderation. Avoid hot red lips and heavy eye-liner; visible tattoos are a no-no.

Having listed all of these rules, there are exceptions and no accounting for taste. “I went to an interview recently and another candidate came in behind me. She was wearing jeans, flip flops, green nail varnish and around 100 bangles up her arm,” says one TES forum user. “She got the job.”


What kind of outfit works for you? What’s the worst thing you have ever worn/seen at interview? Post below or let me know

Need more advice? Visit the Ultimate guide to jobseeking

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4 average rating

Comment (14)

  • Informative, good sense, and funny too. A nice read, well done!

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    anonymous Avatar

    Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    6 June, 2008

  • What worries me about this is that these same people would be horrified if we judged the children by their appearance. Isn't it a shame that the very people capable of intelligent thought can't see past the attire to the person behind them. How many teachers do you know who, having got the job, "dress down" and are excellent, engaging teachers?

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    21 March, 2009


  • If it was a choice between the green nail varnish and someone who wouldn't look me in the eye, I also would choose the former.

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    12 April, 2009


  • It's a careful balance between, smart, comfy and what you can feel comfortable in. If you wear something that you don't like, or feels wrong and your personality will not shine through but you being uncomfortable and anxious will. I went to interview and the guy who got the job wore trainers and a suit. He forgot his shoes. An easy mistake to make, cover all bases have it all ready to go a couple of days before, to ease interview stress.
    Take it from one who knows how to get stressed.

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    Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    23 April, 2009


  • I found a really good smart suit at Tescos in their Florence and Fred range which cost me about £25.00. I got the job!

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    9 June, 2009


  • "these same people would be horrified if we judged the children by their appearance"....are you so sure about that? They may FEIGN horror, but I'm sure if they are 100% honest with themselves then at least ONCE in their career they have though "Oh my goodness, look at the state of him/her." The sight of someone is the first impression we get of them, and it WILL influence our judgement. I'm sure even the most liberal person here coudl think of SOME form of dress that would make them think "unsuitable" before they even spoke a word (and if not you aren't fullly aware of just HOW downright offensive clothing can get).

    However, people like the bangle lady should also be applauded for having the confidence that their own ability would be able to overcome their "unorthodox" appearance.

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    11 May, 2010

    Grey Area

  • I don't wear a tie at school. I think I am the only teacher that does not. I feel that the students relate more easily to me because I don't look too formal and business like. I am hoping for an interview for a new job soon. Should I wear a tie?

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    20 May, 2010

    Neil Todd

  • I would say yes you should wear a tie. although the students relate more easily, do the staff? the impression with wearing a tie is that you are professional and put effort into things, that you aren't laid back of disinterested. To some not wearing a tie may come accross that way. If you can find out what the staff drerss code is like before your interview then that should give you an idea as to what they expect from a new memebr of staff.

    I hope this helps


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    22 May, 2010


  • If you have a chance to visit the school, take a look at what the other teachers are wearing and dress accordingly. If you wear for the interview what you would wear in the classroom or for a parents evening then you are showing who you are.

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    20 June, 2010


  • Its all part of 'Coursemanship', you do and wear what is required. You should check out the schools you wish to work in. If the ethos and culture aren't right then don't apply.
    Reading between the lines of the school website, newsletters and looking at photo's etc and networking contacts should help you know whether the school is right for you. What staff wear to interview does not necessarily reflect what they wear every day - art, DT and PE staff are obvious examples.
    The selection process should have helped match the applicants to the post and the interview is a two way process to try and select the best candidtae for the school and department - not necessarily the best teacher.
    The school will want to have a team that works well together and not bring in someone doesn't fit in. Their dress is only a small part of the picture. Nowadays when many schools work closely with business and industry and other outside stakeholders there is a need to consider their perception of the school and those in it.
    Many schools nowadays are dropping the wearing of ties and there are H&S and other reasons why ties may not be worn in the working day, but still worn by those staff on other occasions.

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    11 September, 2010


  • The advice I was given as an nqt in Scotland was - "If you don't look as if you're dressed for a day in court, you're not smart enough".

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    28 April, 2011


  • "Check that you can sit down and stand up comfortably at all times"? Whoever wrote this is having a laugh. I think I'm giving up teaching for a career as a writer (of spurious advice) - looks like money for jam.

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    9 December, 2011


  • Have an interview tomorrow, going for a nice suit dress and a red blazer, still professional (I hope!) but I think it gives them something to remember you by.

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    21 May, 2012


  • Got my first interview tomorrow, I'm a guy with long hair (shoulder length & wavy); it's always tied up and neat and clean, but I've been told countless times that the school in question dislikes "creative" hairstyles... has anyone had any similar experiences? How did your school react?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

    22 April, 2015

    Adam Rushbrooke

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