Dress to impress: The interview

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 jennifer.beckles@tes.co.uk

Need more advice? Visit the Ultimate guide to jobseeking