Are You Making a Good First Impression? Re-evaluating Your Interview Attire

By Paula Fitzsimmons

I know, we’re in this fight to save animals – not to look great. You’re a passionate, skilled worker who can make a real difference. The thing is this . . . potential employers may not be able to see how dazzling you are if you show up for your interview in unprofessional attire.

Even if it’s on a subconscious level, hiring managers are watching how you present yourself. So not paying attention to this seemingly small – but crucial – detail could cost you a job.

Some of the following will seen like common sense, yet there are people who continue to commit the same costly errors.

This is not the most comfortable conversation to have, either; but wouldn’t you rather hear these things from me than risk not getting your dream job?


Why you need to look presentable

The way you dress and present yourself says a lot about who you’ll be as an employee. Take little care with your appearance, and employers may think you won’t take the job seriously. If you can’t dress professionally for the interview (where candidates are expected to show their best side) what does that say about the quality of your work?

As an employee, you’re representing not only yourself, but an entire organization. As J. Christopher Scott, Human Resource Generalist and Executive Assistant at Save the Chimps once told me:

“Appearance isn’t everything, but you should be neatly dressed in well-kept clothing. You may be interacting with guests or donors at some point, so make sure your appearance is tasteful and respectful.”

This is not the first time I’ve heard this from a hiring manager, either. Your appearance is really that important.

How many major donors do you think are comfortable handing over a check to someone wearing jeans and a tee? Ditto for legislators . . . showing up to a business meeting in casual attire shows a certain lack of respect.

Just because you’re applying for a job with an animal nonprofit, doesn’t mean professionalism isn’t important. Many of the same rules from the business world apply to nonprofits.


So what should you wear?

White blouse

You can’t go wrong in a crisp, clean, tailored shirt or blouse.

First let me clear something up. Professional is not the same as expensive, trendy, or fashionable. You can look just as professional in an outfit you picked up on the discount rack or at a thrift shop.

Here are some general guidelines to follow . . .but note the emphasis on the term “general”:

• Let’s start off with what not to wear to any interview: Tights, leotards, leggings, short skirts, shorts, fishnets, nightclub clothes, sweat pants, sandals, flip-flops, sundresses, tee-shirts, jeans . . . you get the picture. I know, common sense, yet . . .

• If you’re interviewing for a job as an administrator, policy analyst, lawyer, fundraiser, assistant, or similar position, go for business professional – dress as you would if you were interviewing for a job with a Fortune 500 company. This means suit with tie for men; and suit, professional dress, or skirt, tailored shirt, and jacket for women.

• If you’re applying for a more hands-on job, such as an animal keeper at a sanctuary or a veterinary tech at a rescue, you may be able to get away with business casual – nice pants or skirt and shirt, and perhaps a nice jacket.

• If in doubt, dress one or two levels than the job you’re applying for, says Kate Wendleton, president and founder of The Five O’Clock Club, in this article by Monster. It’s better to play it safe and dress up, then take a risk by not looking the part.


Your skills, passion, and dedication are of course, the most important factors. But hiring managers may not be able to see these qualities if you leave a less-than-optimal first impression. These small details do matter. Don’t let a small gaffe keep you from getting your dream job.

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