Feature

4 job interview tips for thrifty candidates

Like it or not, a prospective employer is going to assess your appearance. Make a good impression!

If you're job-seeking, chances are you're not rolling in expendable income. However, don't be tempted by your budget to bypass a few key items that might be considered "luxuries" anywhere but the interview circuit. When it comes to how you present yourself, too much frugality just might cost you the job of your dreams. Yes, it isn't fair that we're judged by our looks — but it happens, even if only subconsciously. Here, a guide to some key things you shouldn't skimp on.

1. A good hairstyle
After paying to get shampooed, trimmed, blown-dry, and offering the requisite tip to the folks who provide these services, the well-coiffed job seeker can find him or herself out anywhere between $30 and $150 — or more. And if you add color to your mane? Add another hefty three digits to your tab. That's a lot of dough for someone who may not be employed at the moment.

Why you shouldn't scrimp: Whoever deemed hair the "crowning glory" was on to something. The condition and appearance of a person's hair is one of the very first things others notice upon an initial meeting, and an ill-kept or disheveled head sends signals that the scruffy-headed one doesn't care about his or her appearance. That's not a message you want to send to your prospective employer before the first words of your interview are even spoken.

Ways you can save: Short of shaving your head (which is actually a decent option), seek out your local accredited school of cosmetology. Aspiring barbers and stylists undergo rigorous training, often lasting months and even years, and more advanced students need real people to practice their new skills on. Worried about a nervous newbie wrecking your 'do? Don't be. All stylists-in-training operate under the careful supervision of experienced teaching professionals who really know their stuff, so even if your session starts heading south, there will be an expert on hand to intervene and, if necessary, correct the situation. Just be sure to request a style that is simple (less chance of it being messed up by a less experienced practitioner) and replicable. You want to be able to re-create your great look at home, for every interview you schedule.

2. A decent manicure
Next to the face and voice, hands are the most expressive part of the body, and are certainly bound to be noticed in the course of a job interview. Even if you are not one to illustrate your points with effusive gestures, you can be sure your hands will come to the attention of those interviewing you — if only because business transactions of all kinds in this country inevitably begin and end with handshakes.

Why you shouldn't scrimp: Unkempt hands are a distraction for both women and men. It's no use practicing a firm, assured grip if the person whose hand you are gripping is repulsed by dirty or untrimmed fingernails and/or hard, cracked skin. Neatly groomed hands are a status symbol of sorts, and you want your prospective bosses to see you moving into their world with confidence and ease.

Ways you can save: Lovely as it is to have a paid professional slough and buff your mitts, you can easily give yourself a manicure at home. Invest in some decent clippers, cuticle and hand cream, orangewood sticks, and emery boards from your local drugstore. Forget about polish; it's not necessary and can actually detract from the clean, well-groomed effect you hope to achieve.

3. Fine footwear
You're a savvy job-seeker. You know how important it is to invest in the best, most well-fitting suit you can afford. You're far too sophisticated to show up at an interview looking like someone's poor cousin from the land of polyester and gaping seams. So why stop at your feet?

Why you shouldn't scrimp: Aside from having the potential to completely undo the great impression made by a great suit, cheap and/or worn-out shoes are highly likely to be uncomfortable. And you can't afford to be uncomfortable in any way when you are in the spotlight at a job interview.

Ways you can save: Consider your interview shoes as much an investment as you do your suit … and use the same tactics to look for bargains on the best. Make friends with a salesperson at your favorite department store and explain your situation and needs. They can alert you to sales and special prices on good merchandise that might just need a good cleaning. Discount retailers such as Ross Dress for Less often carry high-end brands at low, low prices. Just don't fall into the trap of buying something garish or too obviously out of style. Stick to comfortable classics, like leather loafers or pumps in a neutral color, and make them last.

4. An elegant bag… or nothing
Much like shoes, the accessories you carry into the interview room send a strong signal about who you are and your attention to details. This is particularly true of handbags and briefcases, which are simply larger and more noticeable than other accessories.

Why you shouldn't scrimp: Fishing your card out of your stained hobo bag, or lugging in your laptop in the same old computer satchel that saw you through your undergrad days, strikes a discordant note, even when everything else about you says "professional."

Ways you can save: Classic pieces like a tan leather bag or a discreet gray case never go out of style, which means good used ones are always popping up on online auction sites such as eBay. Keep your eyes peeled for prestige brands from sellers with good reputations who advertise items in good used condition. A little history can't hurt and can even help your interview, where potential bosses will quietly admire your good taste and wonder how long you've owned that Hermes. And if you don't want to splurge on a bag — just don't bring one.

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