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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

August 14, 2016

I think my looks are hurting my interview success. Should I hire a personal stylist to improve my image?

Julie Q. Brush

Self Esteem. It’s the cornerstone of happiness. And we live in a world full of values and judgments that can chip away at our self esteem on a daily basis…If we let them. One of the most notorious judgments we all encounter involves our appearance. And these types of judgments are common in today’s professional world. In this world, “how we look” projects an image to others – whether true or false, positive or negative. And perception is reality. So if a lawyer wants to compete effectively for a job, s/he needs to give consideration to this piece of the puzzle.

I know there are some of you out there who will say: “If an employer is that superficial, you don’t want to work there anyway.” And in a perfect world, this couldn’t be truer. But we don’t live in a perfect world. And employers who formulate certain impressions based on appearance are not always superficial. In fact, rarely so. So like it or not, appearance matters. Especially for lawyers. Especially in interviews.

It sounds like you’ve given careful thought as to how your appearance may be compromising your ability to compete in interviews – and you’d like to do something about it. But is seeking the help of an expert worthwhile?

If you have the funds, and want to improve your wardrobe and overall appearance for your interview presentation, I do believe it’s worth the expense, time and effort. When a person doesn’t feel good about him/herself in some way, that negativity will manifest itself in an interview setting. In addition, fashion trends constantly evolve and it can be difficult for a busy professional to keep up in this area – which can exacerbate the issue. Enlisting the help of a professional can help educate you on current styles and “professionalize” your appearance. And addressing these issues may give you greater confidence about your overall presentation. A result, which will come through in an interview.

But with this said, I strongly recommend that you examine the rest of the puzzle to assess whether there is anything else that could be compromising your candidacy – or if your appearance really is, in fact, the only culprit. When interviewing, there are a few core areas that should be polished in order to maximize your candidacy: preparation, showing up on time, good handshake, strong eye contact, a positive attitude, enthusiasm, good judgment, courteous to everyone, confidence, accommodation, follow-through…and personal presentation.

Carefully review each of these areas from your past interviews to determine whether there have been any deficiencies in your approach. In addition, if you want a better sense of the impression you give, ask a friend, colleague or recruiter to conduct a dress rehearsal interview with you…from beginning to end. And ask for honest feedback. This will give you an outside perspective of how you actually present in this setting. If you prefer to be private, videotape yourself in a mock interview setting.

Good personal presentation is important for a job interview. If you feel like you could use the assistance of an expert in this area to improve yours, by all means do so. But also take the time to analyze other possible reasons for your unsuccessful meetings. By covering the additional bases, you might discover that what you’re beholding is more than skin deep.

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Monica Simmons, associate, Doroshow, Pasquale, Krawitz, Bhaya

As a former fashion writer at Vogue, I couldn't agree more with Julie. I think there is a confidence issue going on here. Anybody can wear anything with the right attitude. And after all, in an interview you don't want them to notice your clothes. You want them to notice you. With apologies to the writer above, I'm not convinced this questioner is a woman. That said, I had a few thoughts. Remember 'fashion' and 'style' are not the same thing. Blindly following trends does you no favors. Remember, Anna Wintour (editor in chief of Vogue) has had the same hairstyle since she was a child. You find what you like and make it work. I don't think what is ‘in’ or ‘out’ is important. My one tip is your clothes should fit properly. Finding a good tailor (not simply a seamstress at the dry cleaner) can make a huge difference with the clothes already in your closet. I used to live in Albany, New York and there was an older Italian tailor who was amazing. I would bring clothes and he would argue with me about how short or fitted I wanted something and you know what? He was always right. So finding someone you trust is essential in this process. Be it a tailor, a friend, a co-worker, hairstylist or whatever. Ask someone who’s taste or style you admire. As far as a stylist goes, I don’t know your budget but if you are unsure of your taste, paying for someone else’s taste seems to bypass your issue. Also bear in mind, if someone doesn’t work in law, they have no idea how conservative law can be. And the wrong stylist may cost you a lot of money and you may end up with a closetful of clothes that are inappropriate for your next job. Most nice department stores have personal shoppers. This is a free service where you will go in and meet with them to describe what you need. They will make a bunch of choices and you will return and try things on. The same department stores will often have tailors on hand to tinker with what you buy to make it fit right. Lastly, remember this is about you. Not what you wear. If you are speaking more about grooming than style, obviously clean hair and nails are essential. I have never met a man who can tell the difference between cheap shoes and expensive ones (minus that silly red sole). Image is about look and balance. Find your confidence, go into your interview with a positive attitude and show them who you are. If you can do that, nothing will stop you. Good luck!

There are minor things that can hurt your image without you're even knowing it. For example, are your glasses up-to-date? Is your hairstyle the same one you have been wearing for the past ten years? Are you wearing a designer suit but it's out of style? Are you wearing cheap shoes? (Yes, employers, particularly men, draw conclusions on shoes.) What about your briefcase? Is it a tad shabby? Purse match shoes? Do you have a manicure? Are you wearing perfume? (Don't!) All of these things make an impression and you don't have to hire a personal stylist. This is a visual world now, whether we like it or not. We have to ride the horse in the direction it's going.....

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