Of course you look great in a pair of scrubs. You look professional and ready for action. Unfortunately, this isn’t appropriate for an interview for an associate dentist or a Specialty Program position. In fact, before you say a single word to the interviewer, you have already made an impression based on how you’re dressed, according to fashion consultant Karen Rose of Nordstrom, Inc.
The guidelines given here are commonly accepted as appropriate for interviewing for your first position as an associate dentist. While many dentists wear scrubs in the practice, how you dress at work has very little to do with how you dress for an interview. In addition, research has shown the importance that clothing has on how you feel about yourself and how you present yourself.(1)
Dress in a manner that is professionally appropriate to the position for which you are applying. In almost all cases, this means wearing a suit. It is rarely appropriate to “dress down” for an interview, regardless of the practice’s dress code policy. When in doubt, go professional.
According to a recent article in Vogue,(2) you should strive to “fit in” with your dress. Your ensemble should be professional and polished, with subtle colors and a conservative hairstyle. Spend a little time with a fashion consultant at a reputable clothing store to find out what cut of suit would work best with your physique, what colors would match your eyes, and what combination will help you project professionalism and integrity.
“Wear a suit that fits you well,” says Rose.” A carelessly-fitted suit implies carelessness on the job, not something you want from a dentist.” A dark-colored suit with a light colored shirt is your best option. Your suit should be comfortable and fit you well so that you look and act your best. Your suit should make you feel strong, confident, professional, and polished. As they say in show business, always out-dress your audience.
Avoid loud colors and flashy ties. “If you want to make a statement about your personality,” Rose notes, “show some creativity in your tie. I’m not suggesting a tie with a large fish on it, but something distinctive that the employer dentist and/or interviewers will remember.” Shoes should be well-polished and in good condition, and they should match your belt in color. You will get a great deal of use out of a good-quality pair of dress shoes in a traditional style. Ask the salesperson at the shoe store for advice.
Generally, you should wear a suit with a skirt or pants. Rose notes, “A suit is just more professional and it shows that you’re taking this very seriously. You have to put your best foot forward. If your outfit is well put together, it projects you as being well put together.” When in doubt, be more conservative. Your suit should be comfortable and fit you well. Just like men, a fitting suit applies to women as well, according to Rose: “A suit with an excellent, fastidious fit implies an excellent, fastidious professional.” Higher-end stores have sales associates with a keen eye for fit and fashion and usually offer free alterations when you purchase a suit.
Interview suits should be simple and dark in color. Stick with dark solids like navy or black, or pinstripe. Stay away from brown or light-colored suits. Anything tight, bright, short, or sheer should absolutely be avoided. “Interviewers have been known to complain about the length of interviewees’ skirts; if you have any doubts, it’s probably too short,” says Rose. Knee-length skirts are best. Very long skirts, while modest, are also considered too trendy for an interview.
Wear a conservative blouse with your suit. Do not wear animal prints, or anything lacy, sheer, or low-cut. Rose noted, “Having said that, a woman wants to be remembered in some way. A tasteful flowered blouse, a unique broach, or a subtle attractive scent may help the interviewers remember who you were and says a little something about your personality.” Academic research supports this assertion. People who are interviewing are torn between choosing an outfit that fits the mold and an outfit that says something unique about their personality.(3) Given a little thought—and a good fashion consultant—you can and should do both.
Make-up and nail polish should be understated and flattering; shades that are neutral to your skin tone are generally advisable. Avoid bright or unusual colors or very long nails. Keep your jewelry and hair accessories to a minimum, and stick to those that are not flashy, distracting, or shiny. One ring per hand is best.
Shoes should be conservative and fairly low-heeled. Rose encourages pumps: “Don’t wear shoes with an open toe or back; any shoes you would wear on a date or to a club are probably inappropriate. A basic pump is flattering, versatile, and will stay in style forever.” Be sure to carry an extra pair of hose with you on the day of your interview.
Your hair should be neat, clean, and conservatively styled. “If you are one of several candidates being interviewed for the same position, you want people to remember you based on your blouse, your scent, or that little broach. Not the scrunchies or ponytails you wore,” says Rose. You may want to wear your hair in an updo, pull it back into a low ponytail, or wear a barrette. The idea is to look polished and professional, not to advertise the creativity of your hairdresser.
Men and Women
Think of your suit as your secret weapon. It is making powerful statements about you as a professional, allowing you to secretly check out the practice and the partners to see if this is where you really want to work. While it may be appropriate to dress more casually for a second interview, you must still dress professionally. It’s much better to be too formal than too casual.
These are the generally acceptable guidelines you should follow when deciding what to wear to an interview. Dressing professionally shows respect for yourself, the interviewer, and the practice. You obviously will not have to dress like this every day, but you are more likely to be taken seriously when you present yourself in a professional manner and take the time to attend to details. Dress to impress, and good luck!
- Grogan S, Gill S, Brownbridge K, Kilgariff S, et al. Dress fit and body image: A thematic analysis of women's accounts during and after trying on dresses. Body Image. 2013;10(3):380-388.
- Ward M. 7 Job Interview Tips Everyone Needs to Know. Vogue. 2016 April 6, 2016.
- Cutts B, Hooley T, Yates J. Graduate dress code: How undergraduates are planning to use hair, clothes and make-up to smooth their transition to the workplace. Industry and Higher Education. 2015;29(4):271-282.