THE VANCOUVER SUN, Tuesday, September 2, 2003
Dress right if you want to get the job
Look like you belong in the job you're trying to get
By Joanne Blain
Appearance isn't everything, but for someone starting out in today's competitive business environment, it's almost as important as what's on your resume.
THE VANCOUVER SUN, Tuesday, September 2, 2003
The finished look (above right) of UBC BA student Kara McNair after a day-long makeover designed specifically to prepare her for this fall's round of interviews as she begins a new career in the world of business. Above left: Kara McNair before receiving her makeover.
Show up for an interview looking like you belong on the loading dock rather than in the executive suite -- or, for that matter, dressed in pinstripes and pumps when the corporate culture is sneakers and jeans -- and you're unlikely to land the top-level job you're looking for.
That's something Kara McNair, who is four months away from completing an MBA at the University of B.C.'s Sauder School of Business, is keenly aware of.
For that reason, she jumped at the chance to get a day-long makeover at The Bay, designed specifically to prepare her for this fall's first round of interviews for her new career.
McNair, 34, entered the MBA program after seven years in the software industry, where she said the dress code is "extremely casual."
"I actually did an experiment one day where I wore pyjamas to work just to see what people would think, and nobody cared," she said.
But she is now weighing the possibility of a career in the financial services sector, working in the fields of equity research or mergers and acquisitions. McNair knows that calls for a far more conservative dress code -- but how to pull that look out of her own closet had her flummoxed.
"For men, it's fairly straightforward -- you've got the suit, you can change the colour of the shirt or the tie," she said.
"Women have more flexibility in what they can wear, but that just confuses
me -- it makes it harder. Is a red suit too aggressive, too flamboyant? I don't
McNair has good reason to be concerned about how she presents herself, particularly in the all-important first interview, said Vancouver image consultant Diana Kilgour.
"I hear stories frequently from human-resources heads who will anecdotally tell me: 'Oh, you won't believe what someone wore to a job interview yesterday'," she said.
But McNair's instincts are bang-on according to Kilgour. Although some professions have more relaxed dress codes, suit-and-tie dressing is still de rigeur in the kind of jobs she is considering.
"Things that have to do with people's finances or their future, such as insurance sales, stock brokerages, law, investment counseling -- those industries still have more traditional business dress codes because of the seriousness of the product they are representing," Kilgour said.
The key is to tailor your wardrobe to both the company you want to work for and the job you're seeking, said Brent Cameron, a consultant with the Vancouver office of Ray & Berndtson/Tanton Mitchell, an executive job-search firm.
"If you're going to a forestry job at a mill, even as an executive, and you
arrive in a blue suit and red tie, you're probably not dressed appropriately
for that," he said. "Similarly, if you're arriving for a bank job downtown and
you're in khaki pants and a golf shirt, you're probably not appropriately dressed
Cameron suggests that prospective employees scope out the company they're hoping to join before their first interview to see how their prospective co-workers dress.
"It used to be easy because probably in the old days, you always went with a suit, but that's not always the case now," he said. "It's probably wise to err on that side, but there are a number of companies, particularly on the technology side, where you'd look very overdressed compared to the people you're meeting with. That would make it a difficult interview -- it would throw you off."
McNair knows a pulled-together, industry-tailored look will help her put her best foot forward in an interview. "I am quite certain that my education is preparing me for the skills I need for the job, but I also know that when you walk into an environment and you're comfortable and confident, it's just that much easier."
Mcnair's summer-job wardrobe of capri pants, sandals, T-shirt and sweater was replaced with an oatmeal-coloured pantsuit from the British label Planet, paired with a burgundy-coloured Olson crew-neck sweater, paisley Jones New York scarf and pointy-toed Franco Sarto shoes.
McNair said she now feels like she has the final piece of education she needed to prepare her for her job search.
Knowing how to dress appropriately for your industry and you job "is an easily developed tool and it's a smart tool to know how to use," Kilgour said. But in top-level jobs, "it really quickly comes down to the experience and the accomplishments and what they've done."
"Frankly, if you showed up underdressed -- but if you had just the most spectacular resume and you've done amazing things -- the employer is going to get over the clothes very quickly."
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