How Important Is Appearance in a Job Interview?

Hypothetically, the job candidate who has the most appropriate skills and is the most appropriate fit for the job should get the position. Job interviews would be all about discovering what those skills are, and how that employee’s attitude matches the employer’s brand and culture.

However, most job interviews also evaluate secondary factors, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Appearance, as you may suspect, plays a partial role in your overall evaluation in most scenarios. Of course, not all appearance factors are treated equally; for example, 73 percent of interviewers claimed that personal grooming had a strong influence on their evaluation of a candidate, while only 5 percent claimed the same for the presence of facial hair.

In general, controllable appearance factors matter far more than uncontrollable appearance factors, which makes sense-these factors are a reflection of a person’s lifestyle, discipline, and commitment. But which factors matter most?

Controllable Factors to Note

These are some of the most important controllable factors to consider and prepare for:

  • Personal hygiene. Your personal hygiene will have an immediate impact, and will likely impact the first impression you make with your interviewer. Make sure you shower before your interview if you can, and wear a good brand of deodorant, like Degree or Secret, which are both highly rated. The last thing you want is for a hint of body odor to ruin a prospective employer’s impression of your personal hygiene habits.
  • Grooming. You’ll also want to spend some time grooming yourself before the interview. For women, this could mean adding a touch of makeup or styling your hair-preferably with a good styling iron like TYME, which gives you more impressive style options. For men, this means trimming or shaving your facial hair, and making sure your hair remains in place. Trim your fingernails, check your teeth, and don’t ignore the little details before the interview-every little bit could affect your overall impression.
  • Attire. There are many considerations to bear in mind with your choice in attire. The rule of thumb is to dress for the position you’re trying to get, but it’s better to err on the side of over-dressing. You’ll want to wear a suit or a nice dress to the interview, and make sure your clothes are well-maintained, free from stains, holes, or other unsightly features. You don’t have to invest in luxury brands like Armani, but you should have well-fitted, nice-looking professional clothes.
  • Handshakes. Though they’re more of a physical gesture than an element of appearance, handshakes can still make a big impression. Be sure to grip your interviewer’s hand firmly-without squeezing too hard-and pump twice, while looking them in the eyes. A solid handshake can help you establish a strong image early on.
  • Tattoos, piercings, and nontraditional hair. Despite some forward progress over the years, alternative lifestyle markers like tattoos, nontraditional piercings, and nontraditional hair colors and styles can still make a negative impression. To play it safe, try to cover or avoid displaying these features on your body when showing up for an interview.

Being Aware of Prejudices

You may also want to be aware of potential prejudices about less controllable aspects of your appearance:

  • Age. Older candidates may be seen as less flexible or less capable of learning new technologies, while younger candidates may be seen as naïve, immature, or incapable. Try to fight back against these negative stereotypes by proving that you’re an exception during the interview.
  • Weight. At least for women, weight (and height) can have a significant role in your salary, as well as your potential for promotion. Taller, thinner women tend to earn more than their shorter, heavier counterparts. Prioritizing your physical fitness can mitigate the effects here and improve your health at the same time (however, don’t obsess over being skinny).
  • Gender and race. Unfortunately, negative stereotypes still exist for women and minorities in the professional world. There isn’t much you can do about them-especially since these prejudices likely won’t be obvious-but you can go out of your way to prove you’re fit for the job.
  • Attractiveness. It would be silly to suggest that a person’s physical attractiveness has no impact on their hireability-especially in customer-facing positions. This doesn’t mean you should seek plastic surgery, but small touches to make yourself more conventionally attractive could boost your chances of succeeding in the interview.

There isn’t much you can do about the uncontrollable appearance factors that relate to your face and body, but that doesn’t mean you can’t actively prepare to be better received in your interview. Appearance does matter, and could significantly affect your chances of being hired, so spend some time improving the elements of your appearance that you can-and try not to sweat the other details.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.