ExecSearch International - Australia

ExecSearch International - Australia

Dress for Effect Articles

The 27 Second Interview

Duff Watkins and Jean Woo

Your next job interview will last 27 seconds.

Why?  Because that’s all the time you have to form a good first impression.

Why so fast?  Because for thousands of years human survival has depended on how quickly we could size up a situation or another person.  Human brains are hardwired to attempt to assess other people quickly (if inaccurately).

Employers are human too.  Like all humans they use short-cuts to save time when making decisions.  Your cover letter is glanced at, your resume is scanned and your interview is determined largely by the first impression that you create.

So whether interviewing for a job, attending your performance review, or meeting with your boss to request a pay rise, your attire is crucially important.  What the interviewer sees must match what you say because the visuals always eclipse the verbals.  So get it right the first time or there won’t be a second.


Experts and authorities (including us) advise you to dress conservatively for job interviews.

But exactly what is conservative?

Conservative dress means being moderate in style and avoiding novelty or showiness.

A conservative look is traditional and conventional.  It avoids extremes and doesn’t distract the viewer.  That’s the key.  A conservative look is safe because it won’t surprise, annoy or disturb your potential employer.  It buys you that precious 27 seconds of time in which to make a positive impact on the interviewer.  So when in doubt about what to wear to an interview or meeting, err on the side of conservatism.

Ultimately, you want your personality to stand out, not your clothes.  So make sure that your interview attire plays a supporting not a starring role.  Don’t put your clothes on centre stage but do don duds that will be noticed as being appropriate and well-fitting.


Fail Safe Style

Geez, what’s a bloke to do?

Appear too formal and you give the impression of being rigid and stuffy.
Appear too casual and it signals that you do not take the interview or job seriously.

Here’s how to get it right, every time:

1)  Prepare

  • Plan what you are going to wear a few days before your interview.
  • Check for stains, loose buttons and stray threads. Make sure your clothes are clean and ironed.
  • If in doubt, do a full dress rehearsal before the interview and get a second opinion from an experienced business person.
  • Ensure everything fits correctly and that your shoes are polished.
  • Get your clothes ready the night before, so you don't have to spend time getting them ready on the day of the interview.
  • If your clothes are dry clean only, take them to the cleaners after an interview, so they are ready for next time.

2)  Appear Conservative (…even if you’re not)

  • Wear a navy or dark grey suit (solid or pinstripe).  This serves as a visual background that frames your face for the viewer’s eyes.  Either colour gives you versatility when choosing your shirt and tie.
  • A three button suit looks good on almost anyone, while a 2 button gives you a slightly taller/slimmer appearance.
  • Wear white or a pale blue business shirt that contrasts with the jacket and/or tie.  Striped and patterned shirts are a little less formal so wear them judiciously.
  • A straight collar is more formal than a button down.  Choose one with a medium spread. (If you have a large neck, a wider collar looks better.)
  • A silk tie that coordinates with the suit and contrasts with your shirt.  Select subtle or simple patterns.  Stick to solids, rep (diagonal striped) or small patterned ties.
  • Socks should cover your calf. Only wear dark blue or black.
  • Preferably lace-up (not slip-on) dress shoes that are polished.
  • A leather belt that matches your shoes.
  • A short hair cut is expected and no facial hair is preferred (it can lose you 25% of your audience).
  • No more than one ring per hand and a dress watch. Your briefcase or portfolio is part of visual effect so ensure it’s made of leather and of a dark colour.
  • If necessary, a full-length coat can be worn over your suit but avoid casual coats.
  • Cologne should be discreet. When in doubt, wear none.

3)  Forbear

  • Sucking sweets or chewing gum
  • Leaving your phone on
  • Carrying iPod paraphernalia
  • Carting coffee, smokes or soft drinks
  • Reeking of tobacco
  • Displaying piercings or tattoos
  • Bulging pockets and tinkling coins
  • Wearing flashy or brightly coloured shirts or ties

Bottom line:  Will dressing properly get you the job?

But the right clothes give you a 27 second opportunity to make the right impression.

© Duff Watkins, Jean Woo 2007

Dr. Duff Watkins

Dr Duff Watkins

is Director, ExecSearch International - Australia. His articles appear in Men’s Style Australia, Sydney Morning Herald, Company Director Magazine, Melbourne Herald Sun and many others.

Jean Woo 

Jean Woo

is author of Executive Style. dress essentials for men and women.  Once a corporate lawyer, she is now Director of Personal Brand Management. They are co-authors of Dress For Effect.: secrets of sartorial splendour