Besides an attractive résumé, appropriate dressing is also a winning factor for a job hunter. My choice of ‘appropriate’ instead of ‘good’ dressing is a shield from the ridicule that may arise from obvious differences in what good appearance means to different people, especially as it largely relates to career, culture, and other social determinants.
For the lawyer, appropriate dressing means appearing in the right regalia for particular occasions. If you’re in court for instance, the wig and gown ensemble does the job.
So if you get that phone call for an interview, how can your wardrobe improve your chances?
Sometime in the past, I attended an interview in a law firm on a Friday and while I was seated in one of the fluffy cushions in the reception, a classmate of mine from law school walked in. We shook hands amidst brief pleasantries. Then, he reached out to the receptionist and explained that he came to drop his CV. He had called a partner in the firm prior to his coming and the partner told him to submit his CV.
While he was canvassing with the receptionist, the partner came out from his office, and on seeing the partner, he was elated, thinking and believing that his task had become easier. He quickly went to the partner and re-introduced himself as ‘Mr. A, who called a few days ago’. The partner looked askance at him and said; “We don’t accept hard copy applications please. Meanwhile, when next you go for job hunting, you should be dressed in a suit. That’s the dress code of the legal profession”.
Don’t be disappointed yet. The young man wasn’t in rags. He wasn’t in a simple T-shirt and worn out jeans. He wore a neatly tailored native wear. He was as charming as charming can ever be. But to his prospective employer, his dressing was inappropriate, not necessarily bad.
Well, you criticise the Eurocentric nature of such gestures by the partner, and I stand with you. In fact, I wish that someday, in my own time, we could get rid of British culture and embrace ours, but sadly, at the relevant time, you’re jobless. That’s why you have to dress like you’re looking for a job.
Another scenario that could pose as a trap is to be invited for an interview on a Saturday or Sunday. What do you intend to wear? I have been there too. My instinct kept saying ‘casual’. Is it not weekend? But I disregarded my instinct. You should disregard your instinct too. Of course you may see some of the panellists dressed in jeans and jerseys. Yes! It’s none of your business. Whatever impression you have of them, bottle it up until you’re on the other side of the table. Remember, all you want is a good job and not a debate on “The Impact of Eurocentrism in Africa”. The mate I cited above may have thought that because it’s a Friday (on which day most offices dress in casual wear), he could appear without guilt in his native wear. Hewould have been right if he wasn’t job hunting.
Now, just as our faces differ, our preferences differ too. There are law firms (albeit few in Nigeria) that will overlook your appearance provided you look smart.
It will be harmless, and even fruitful to your cause to run some due diligence on the firm prior to your interview. Ask simple important questions like; who are the partners? What are their possible dress preferences? Are they Eurocentric? Etc. But if you’re in doubt, just get your suit ready. You will have no regrets.
You really have to look Clean, Smart and Comfortable (CSC). You have to be Clean in order not to cause your interviewer any discomfort or attract unnecessary negative attention. Being clean also means having a clean bath and avoiding contact with anything that has awful or nauseating smell, or is awful to the eyes. You don’t want to be seen dusting your jacket during the interview or to have your interviewer cover his nose because of the smell oozing out from your body or mouth. Besides being a turn-off, such circumstance could also change the mood of your interviewer to your disadvantage. And remember, no reasonable employer would want to recruit a dirty lawyer.
Of course you can rely on your deodorants and perfumes for help. But then, it will be counter-productive if your perfume is the type that chokes to near-death. Therefore, it has to be moderately worn in order not to put off those who may be allergic to it. You don’t want to seem uncharitable. If you have walked a distance to the venue of the interview, you can assist yourself by using the restroom before you’re called up for the chat. Clean up your shoes and dust your trousers.
Looking Smart cannot be taken for granted when preparing for an interview. It is important to try on your proposed outfit before the day of the interview. Have you confirmed the colour combinations of all the things you want to wear? The shirt, trouser, waist coat, jacket, belt, shoes, wrist watch, stockings, and even your hair cut. These things, as little as they seem, could make all the difference. When your combination is good to go, you assume some level of smartness which could give the impression that you have all the answers. Sometimes, looking smart covers up a certain amount of ignorance, at least at first sight and you never can tell how that first impression can go a long way in opening the door for you.
If at any time you’re doubtful as to what combination to go with, a black suit on white shirt would be spot on (with a black tie for the men).
Thirdly, you must be Comfortable as well. If your inner wear is clean and fresh, the chances of scratching parts of your body will be limited. You should be comfortable because you look smart (even if you’re not). It works ‘like mad’. You don’t have to wear anything that you’re not comfortable with. If for instance you don’t wear glasses, you don’t have to wear one for an interview just to avoid eye contact or to look ‘more professional’. It will surely discomfort you in an obvious way and you will lose focus.
You should try as much as possible to avoid all self-inflicted distractions such as nail biting and nose picking.
Finally, most interviewers may be slightly impatient (which could be understood because you’re not the only one eyeing that position), that is why your interviewer’s first impression of you matters. Your interviewer must see the confidence and boldness in you. When you’re clean, smart and comfortable with your appearance, confidence and boldness become your best friends.
Kelechi Attamah is a graduate of law from the University of Nigeria. He is an Associate at the Law Crest LLP. Some of his write ups can be found on his blog https://kelechiattama.wordpress.com.