Forget "business casual" when dressing for an interview. When interviewing with a small or large business, a professional organization, a political organization or a non-profit entity, the way one dresses matters. For men, nothing matters more than the tie. Much can be said of haircuts, suits, dress shirts and accessories. These will be addressed in future articles. But to be honest, if one wear the wrong tie, the other items of attire will not matter.
Why wear ties? They are archaic. They are uncomfortable. They are difficult to knot and keep looking neat. There are so many choices of colors and styles that it is overwhelming. The simple answer is that ties are still considered essential items of attire for professional men.
What style tie should one wear? Ties have been skinny and wide and back again to skinny. If a tie is too skinny or too wide it looks either dated or faddish. Stay away from both. The tie should be long enough to touch one's belt when tied in whatever knot. While this article will not go into how to tie a necktie, there are step by step directions on a number of men's grooming web sites. Knots vary from full Windsor (big knot), to the half Windsor (medium knot) to four in hand (a simple and narrow knot). I prefer the four in hand. Some men like a "dimple" or a small crease just below the knot. Most men's catalogs show the knots in detail. Some men prefer the tie without the dimple below the knot. It is a matter of personal taste and style.
What ties are appropriate for an interview? In the world of ties, the best ones for interviews are: foulard, regimental stripe and small dot.
The foulard tie has repeating patterns of diamonds, circles (like little tiny flowers), ovals (like little tiny pine cones) or other shapes. The patterns are symmetrical on a solid colored ground. These are not the whales, dolphins, ducks, hunting dogs or golf clubs woven into the tie. Those are club ties. Keep them for the country club functions and point-to-point races. The foulard tie is traditional, understated and speaks volumes about being well heeled.
The regimental tie is based on the ties worn by British graduates of public (U.S. calls them private) schools, universities plus members of clubs and veterans of regiments and other military organizations. The stripe and color combinations vary widely. Stripes are wide or narrow or combinations of wide and narrow. Wider stripes are better with suits. If one thinks the interviewer may be British or from a former British colony, AVOID the regimental tie because they may ask about one's affiliation to the school or unit.
Finally, the dot tie is acceptable and very traditional. While more formal (think Winston Churchill and ambassadors), the tie with a solid colored ground and small, evenly spaced dots is very understated and clean looking. All of the ties mentioned above should be in 100% silk.
What about the other styles of ties? There are more ties than I can describe here. They may be fine for some activities and functions but not for interviews. The other styles of ties include the club ties which were already mentioned, paisley ties which say "I am artistic and intellectual", knit ties which are too casual and colorful madras ties which are good for summer weekends with a blazer. Pastel colored linen ties are in the same category as madras. Solid ties which is safe but a bore. The very expensive patterned fine silk ties from Europe say "I spent way too much for this tie and I am trying to impress you". Save these for wear after the promotion. Avoid ties that say anything on them. One's tie can make a statement without clever words or initials. Finally, there are all the wild ties of random patterns and garish colors. These ties may be acceptable once in a while once established in a career. They are not for job interviews. Some people never wear them and that is fine.
What about colors? With navy suits, ties in yellow (the old power tie), red, maroon and light blue (the new power tie) are acceptable as the dominant color or the ground. With gray suits, ties, in navy, light blue and maroon are best. Do not wear brown, black or tan suits to a job interview - ever. Avoid green, pink, purple and orange ties for interviews. Green ties can be nice for the country club and weekends but not generally the office. Since one are wearing a white shirt for the interview, it is always nice to have a foulard with a touch of white as an accent, a regimental stripe with one of the stripes in white or silver or a dot tie with the dots in white to pick up the white of the crisp dress shirt.
Sources for the right ties include: Brooks Brothers, Polo Ralph Lauren, Jos. A. Bank, some department stores (but be careful), J. Press and Ben Silver. All these quality gentlemen's stores have web sites and catalogs that one can review prior to making one purchase.
Following these tie rules will not guarantee one a job. Being qualified and coming across well during the interview are essential. Having the right tie will insure that the interviewers are not distracted by the tie. It also insures that the tie is saying all the right things about the job candidate.
George F. Franks, III is the President of Franks Consulting Group, a Bethesda, Maryland based management consulting and leadership coaching practice. Franks Consulting Group's clients include businesses, non-profit organizations and individual leaders. You can contact Franks Consul
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