Just three seconds is all the time it takes for a first impression to register on an interviewer – or a new work-mate. Your make-up, hair and hands are speaking for you before you even say a word, say psychologists and image professionals.
That certainly doesn’t mean you have to be stunning to get the job. ‘But it does mean that you have to look like you care,’ stresses Judith Kark, Principal of Quest Business Training (who for years was Principal of London’s Lucie Clayton Grooming & Modelling School, where women of all ages and nationalities were taught body language and posture, among other ‘life skills’.)
There is an art to projecting a winning interview image. Judith Kark’s years of experience have led her to advise girls, ‘to err on the side of polite caution.’ (In other words: no nose rings, vampy nail polish or false lashes.) Neatness counts a lot. Hair should be off the face – ‘interviewers like to see your eyes,’ – but should look natural or bouncy. A new cut or a trim can do wonders to clean up your act – but do it a week in advance to give you and your hair a chance to settle in together.
It may be too late to give up biting your nails, but that’s no excuse not to reach for the anti-nail biting lotion. ‘Hands and shoes are the two most telling non-verbal clues which corporate recruiters look at.’ Clean fingernails really do go without saying. Nails should be short, neat and polished with clear or neutral varnish.
For a smooth handshake, carry a tube of hand cream in your bag. Just in case clamminess is a problem, Judith Kark counsels carrying a hankie to wipe hands on, or brushing your hands with the same powder you use on your face, which dries them off. (But you’ve been warned: only carry pressed, not loose powder – it could spill and ruin your suit.)
Even though young skin tends to look wonderfully fresh, subtly-applied make-up is a must, for interviews and in the workplace. (At many companies where image matters – like The Disney Store and British Airways – make-up is actually mandatory.) ‘No make-up at all is as sloppy as too much,’ points out Judith Kark, firmly.
Top make-up artist Ariane Poole recommends a natural, neutral look, ‘at least until you’ve found your ground.’ Her essentials: start with an all-in-one foundation and powder, which can be touched up during the day. (N.B. in the washroom, not at your desk.) Judith Kark recommends matte-finish make-up. ‘Because if you’re nervous, you’ll be quite shiny enough.’ If you have blemishes or dark circles, put a skin tone-matched concealer on them, before your base. Next step is a camel-coloured blusher, ‘but don’t put it just on the apples of cheeks or you’ll look like a dairymaid; sweep it along the cheekbone, too.’ Light eye make-up is another must, and good grooming definitely means plucking stray brows. Lips should be a near-natural pink, with maybe a dab of gloss or shine.
If you’re still insecure about the art of cosmetic face-perfection, the pros are agreed: a make-up lesson is a terrific confidence-booster. Choose one where you can get hands-on experience, rather than simply watch while you’re transformed.
Finally, before any big interview or the first day at work, Judith Kark tells her girls to try on the clothes and the make-up they’ll be wearing, in daylight, not last thing at night. ‘Stand in front of the mirror and really try to see yourself as others will.’
TIP The attitude to make-up and clothes is different in every workplace. Judith Kark suggests that, when you’re at the interview, you take a good look at the make-up and hairstyles favoured by future colleagues. ‘It’s important to play by the rules when you’re starting your career,’ she believes. When you’ve gauged the attitude to appearance you can decide whether to be more daring.