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Dress to impress: how to make the right impact at that crucial interview

Faced with a fashion crisis, jeans are always a safe bet. Those much-loved denims will see you through every scenario from a first date to a family gathering. But there's one environment where your Diesels are a definite no-no - the interview.

This year, chances are you'll have to attend at least one interview, so listen up. As if the stress of being grilled over your academic strengths and weaknesses, your hobbies and interests and your life plan weren't enough, there's the outlawed jeans issue to contend with. So what do you do? Don't panic. Take control. And, if possible, take a crash course in advanced ironing.

Talking your way onto the university or college course you covet, the job you hanker for, or the work experience placement that's going to get you exactly where you want to be, may well be the first interview situation you ever put yourself in. You need to impress and while you've done a lot of the legwork already with your application (just remember: you're practically a genius for getting to an interview in the first place), visual impressions count. According to Kim Zoller at corporate training company Image Dynamics Inc, 55 per cent of another person's perception of you is based on how you look. Another study, the Hamermesh-Biddle project, claims that attractive people have higher incomes in every sector - even those that don't require public contact, such as construction work and telemarketing. All of which means that you need to consider your appearance carefully.

The good news is that anyone can be perceived as attractive. Whether or not you're blessed with looks that could rival Angelina Jolie for Brad's affection or sweep Mischa Barton off her feet, if you take a little time and care, you can look professional, comfortable and actually rather attractive, thank you very much!

That said, you're not going for alluring with your interview style. "We want people to look smart," says Susan Matthews, an admissions tutor for pharmacy at the University of East Anglia. For most course and work environments, you don't want to rock the boat. Smart trousers or a simple skirt, dark colours, an ironed shirt and neat (recently cut or tied back) hair will do. These days, few recruiters expect you to wear a full-on suit - especially if you're talking about university and college applications - but they will want to see a smart, respectable and organised candidate.

"It's very important to be comfortable, otherwise the stress of the day is made much worse," says Matthews. "It's also good if personality comes through with what you're wearing. We're not just looking for academia - we need candidates who can work as professionals. If they wear the smartest of their normal clothes, we can get an impression of a person, not just a CV." That's the happy middle ground between frumpy pinstripe and inappropriate rebel; think sophisticated, muted and stylish.

"We expect students to be nervous, but give yourself the best chance to do well. Eye contact is crucial. Don't slouch and don't bring loads of bags with you," advises Matthews. Wringing your hands, crossing your arms, adjusting your clothes - all those nervous gestures scream insecurity. "Steer clear of clothes, jewellery or hair styles you're tempted to fidget with."

Traditionalists, in many ways, get it easy. "Black and boring has always worked for me," says trainee accountant Michael Primack, 23, of his interview outfit. Perhaps he's got it right: according to a survey conducted by Management Recruiters International (MRI), 34 per cent of executives think that business dress has gone too casual; they want you to smarten up.

Of course, there are exceptions. "I did a fashion course," says Jana Waters, 22. "How you look is part of the interview. I wore clothes I'd made myself, and I made sure I talked about them with the tutors who interviewed me. When I later went for job interviews, I went for a look that was professional but individual and unique."

"Whatever you're being interviewed for, your mind and ideas are always of more interest that your clothes," says Matthews. "But give yourself the best chance you can." Make sure your clothes are clean. Polish your shoes. Take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask yourself: would I recruit me? If the answer's no, get back to the wardrobe. And whatever you do, don't reach for those jeans.

What not to wear

GIRLS

  • Stilettos
  • Skin-tight miniskirts
  • Britney Spears' Fantasy (or other overpowering perfumes)
  • Clashing colours and patterns
  • "Funky" hair dyes (they aren't)
  • Heavy make-up
  • Bling

BOYS

  • Trousers that start below your pants
  • Any bright colours or patterns
  • Strong aftershave
  • "Funny" ties or socks. (Not funny. Ever).
  • Any footwear other than sensible shoes
  • Rucksacks. Get a briefcase or a portfolio
  • Bling
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

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