The Importance of Attire
One of the more common questions I’ve been asked over the years, is “Chief, what should I wear to my oral board interview.”
While that’s a very good question, I almost never hear candidates or applicants ask “What should I wear to my written test.” This too, is just as important for reasons that may surprise you. I’ll answer both.
Both men and woman do well to dress in business casual. Of course, clean, neat and pressed. As for colors, I’ll get to that when I discuss “mirroring.”
I strongly recommend to sit in the front of the room. Some of the same people that proctor your written exam may be staffing your oral board exam.
If they see you appropriately dressed at the written, they may recognize you at the oral interview, and that’s a very good thing.
Particularly good if someone from the oral board panel acknowledges you as someone they recognize from exam day.
If they don’t recognize you, and you do them, mention it in the open of your interview when you’re shaking hands during the introductions. Be brief in your acknowledgement, and smile when you say,
“I recall seeing you at the written exam, it’s nice to see you again.”
The art of mirroring
Before we get into gender specifics, I would first like to discuss colors and mirroring.
Let’s talk about dressing in tones or hues that are similar to, or somewhat mirror the agency for which you’re interviewing. This is how powerful mirroring can be.
I recall the first time I interviewed an applicant that had done this. He was interviewing for a sheriff’s deputy position.
When the interview was over and the five of us panel members were scoring him, two of the five panel members actually said, what all five of us were thinking.
“Man that guy looked good.”
I remember wondering to myself if he’d dressed in a brown suit intentionally, or if that just happened to be his only suit. In the end, it didn’t matter, we loved it!
Since that first time, I’ve seen a number of applicants follow this strategy. To this day I always wonder if they’d previously heard of this theory, of if they simply put on what they had available.
I’ll say it again, it just doesn’t matter, they almost always rank number one in appearance. Remember, subtlety, it’s very powerful.
Keep this in mind as you prepare your threads for the interview. If you’re interviewing for a police department, a dark blue suit is fine.
If the uniform used by that agency includes navy, or dark blue, a navy or dark blue suit is PERFECT!
If you’re interviewing at a sheriff’s department and their uniform is dark brown, or includes dark brown, a dark tan or brown suit is again, PERFECT!
If the agency you’re applying for uses grey uniforms, a black suit is fine, a dark grey suit is PERFECT! You can see where I’m going with this.
Don’t approach your attire with the idea that you want to mimic or imitate the agency’s uniform, but rather, think of this as your way to calmly reflect or to illustrate that you look good in “their colors.”
Don’t make a concerted effort to perfectly match their hue or tone, just wear something that falls within a similar shade range.
The one color that I advise all applicants to avoid is red. Red shirts, red ties, red anything can be perceived by some people as a challenge.
When you’re in a position of power, red is fine. When you’re the applicant, you’ll do well to stay away from the message sent by the color red.
The Oral Board Interview – Men
Dressing for the oral board interview is relatively basic, with several “dos” and a few “don’t dos.”
I’m a fan and a strong proponent of subliminal messaging. The key to capitalizing on the approach of hidden meaning-behavior, is subtlety. I cannot stress this enough.
With that said, for starters, a suit and tie are a must. Don’t try to stand out with your attire. Your time to do that is when you’re speaking, not with the clothing on your back.
You must look presentable, and you will, just don’t attempt to outperform your competition. The outperformers are usually obvious and frankly, often look silly.
On a man, any jewelry other than a watch and a wedding band is out, as is any type of cologne.
If you do wear a watch, don’t dare look at it during the interview. You’ll be perceived as bored, or rude or worse, both!
Not Too Complicated – Women
Generally speaking, women do very well to present themselves in an oral board interview when it comes to the topic of attire.
You might guess that my “generally speaking” comment is just that, general. I’ve seen some real attire fails over the years and I’ll cover them. Speaking of cover, don’t show any cleavage.
I’m sure most of you are thinking, no kidding chief, I would never THINK of putting it out there! I’ve seen it, more than a few times.
A thought that crosses our minds when a woman exposes a bit, is that this is the officer that’s going to cause a few divorces on our agency. I’m not kidding, that’s what we’re thinking.
Some women have asked me if they should wear a dress. I caution against that as it’s a bit too feminine.
Femininity is a wonderful attribute but because you’re interviewing in a male dominated profession, a pants suit gives the oral board panel members a better idea of how you’ll look in uniform.
As for accessorizing, there are a few tips I’ll share. Apply NO perfume at all. Minimize your makeup to applying as little as you can, while still feeling comfortable and confident.
Wear no jewelry other than an engagement or wedding ring, a watch if you must, and if you wear earrings, small and again, very conservative and preferably nothing with loops. Flat to the lobe is best.
When a man tries to compete with his counterparts in his manner of interview dress, he usually looks a bit silly. When women compete to look better than their competition, they usually look stunning.
Stunning is great for an evening out but works against you in the interview setting.