Dress for interview success: What you wear is who you are

Dressing for success in the hospitality industry starts from the moment you arrive for your interview. The way you prepare yourself and present yourself in a hospitality interview will offer prospective employers clues to how you’ll present yourself in the hospitality industry. First impressions are often the only impressions, so you’ll want your first appearance to set the table for your performance on the job.

“Your initial appearance will introduce yourself before your words do,” says Roberta Nedry, president of Hospitality Excellence, Inc., a guest experience management firm. “You have only one moment to make that first impression, from the minute you walk through the door and reach out your hand. In choosing your clothes you are making a total impression. It’s just like going to a party: what do you want to say about yourself?”

Dressing for success as early as the interview is even more important in the hospitality industry than other businesses because hospitality jobs demand you constantly present yourself to guests, whether in a restaurant, hotel, resort, spa or other people-heavy setting. So when you arrive for your interview, employers are already assessing how their guests will perceive you as an ambassador for their operation.

What NOT to wear (and do) for your hospitality interview

Roberta Nedry breaks down her favorite hospitality fashion crimes into three basic types:

Stinky Stan is a man or woman who suffers from body odor or bad breath or wears excessive perfume or cologne. Personal hygiene is part of your attire and an important part of the first impression you make at an interview.

“Some people don’t realize their perfume is overwhelming or they have a strong body odor,” she says. If you perspire heavily, wear something like a cotton t-shirt or sweat guards to absorb and prevent stains. If you drink coffee before your interview, don’t forget to brush your teeth, use breath mints or chew breath-freshening gum. And remember, your perfume might smell good to you, but not necessarily to others, so your best policy is not to use any scent at all.

Your hair and fingernails should be squeaky clean. Especially for jobs where you’ll dealing with food, such as serving or catering, longer hair should be pulled back and tidy. And consider losing the black nail polish for a more neutral shade at your interview.

Jewelled up Jill will stand out, but not in a good way, at a hospitality interview. Some hotels, says Nedry, even have jewelry standards governing the size of the earrings and the number of rings you can wear. When in doubt for your interview, leave the jewelry at home.

Says Nedry, “When working at a hotel, for instance, you want to reflect the hotel. Lots of jewelry is just inappropriate.” The same goes for excessive makeup that’s overly bright and calls attention to your appearance rather than your performance. This applies, too, to visible body piercing. You’re better to leave the studs at home and cover the tattoos.anything that might make guests in a hospitality setting feel uncomfortable.

Sloppy Sam shows up for the hospitality interview with scuffed or worn out shoes, shirt untucked, buttons undone or missing. It takes only a few minutes to see to these final details before your interview.

Tips to dress for interview success

  • When you’re first called for an interview, find out if there’s a written or even unwritten dress code or standards of appearance for the hospitality job.
  • Create a dress-for-success checklist ahead of time. On the day of your interview, prepare for contingencies, for instance by keeping a little sewing kit with you just in case.
  • If you really want the job, do your research. Go to the place of employment and sit where you might be working. If it’s a front desk clerk job, sit in the lobby and study the employees, check out their appearance at various times of day. Is there a difference in dress during time shifts? Does the uniform change? Look at their clothes, hair, makeup and jewelry. If you’re interviewing for a hotel job, find out if the dress is the same throughout the chain or if dress code differs from city to city.
  • Try to replicate the “uniform” of the position at the interview. Dressing the part will help an employer visualize you in the hospitality position.
  • Dress comfortably but as your best self, says Nedry. Choose your colors carefully. Neutral tones work well, but black and white also present a professional appearance.

The rules of fashion have certainly loosened, and you probably no longer need to “suit up” for a hospitality interview, but one rule has not changed: you’ll always want to look professional and clean to make the right impression from the start.