How to Dress for a Successful Intervew

Freelance writers sometimes wonder what to wear when they go out to interview a source, either in a business office or some other setting. We may wear comfy old jeans, or even our PJs, while at the computer, but when we need to do an in-person interview for an article, we want to make sure we are suitably dressed and groomed.

We know that others judge us, and treat us, according to our attire. How we look does count. And first impressions are especially important.

In their book, Before the Story, George M. Killenberg and Rob Anderson offer some excellent tips on the subject of interviewing, including how to dress for the interview. Their book was written to provide interviewing and communication skills for journalists, but their advice can also help freelancers. (When the book was written, Killenberg was a professor of mass communication and Anderson a professor of speech communication at Southern Illinois University).

They suggest that each of us should ask this question:”Do I want to risk offending or alienating an interviewee by drawing attention to my clothing or appearance?”

“There are reporters … who pride themselves on being nonconformists, including in how they dress. Perhaps they are rebelling against the dress-for-success mentality. Then there are those who affect a ‘look,’ whether it be college chic, blue collar or L. L. Bean. Finally, some are just plain tacky; mis-and-unmatch polyester is their style.”

So they advise as a general rule:

“…choose clothing that is appropriate in a professional business setting–a jacket and tie for men and a suit or dress for women. Most people expect such attire. Try to remain inconspicuous or even ‘neutral’ in the color and style of your clothes. Avoid anything in dress or grooming that would be considered unfavorably because you’re perceived as pretentious, flashy, sloppy or rebellious.”

The authors quote a reporter for a metropolitan newspaper who said he dresses to be comfortable. “I’m a suit-and-tie kind of guy. I don’t feel I need to put on bib overalls to interview a farmer. If they see I’m comfortable in the way I dress, they’ll be comfortable, too.”

But Killenberg and Anderson warn that comfort can’t be the only guide: “…otherwise many people would go to work in pajamas or robes. If you wear a Brooks Brothers suit to interview street people, don’t be surprised if rapport is difficult to establish.”

Their book is chock full of helpful information about interviewing, including chapters on “Human Nature and the Nature of Questions” and “Assessing People and Information: On Not Getting Fooled, Most of the Time.”  It’s not a recently published book.  I bought my copy more than 10 years ago and the help it gives it still timeless. It’s still available at and EBay and maybe at other places. The publisher is St. Martin’s Press, Inc.

© 2009 by Laverne Daley

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