I'm sure someone at some point in your career has told you to, "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." And while this career advice is both hopeful and valuable, does it still ring true? (Has it ever?)
In this article, we explore the definition of this adage, the advantages and disadvantages of dressing beyond your role and the psychology of what it means to dress for success.
The goal of dressing for the job you want is to help others see you in a more authoritative light, increasing your chances of actually landing your desired role.
Take for instance an intern seeking full-time employment. Instead of dressing in business casual workwear (which is often the general dress code for most internships) the intern may elevate their appearance by wearing a button-down shirt, fitted work pants and a patterned flat to give off a more polished, authoritative vibe.
Others at the company who don't know the employee is an intern will guess they're in a more senior role — which is exactly the vibe you want to give off when you dress for the job you want.
Cultural competence refers to a thorough understanding of your surrounding environment. When you dress for success, you're expressing your professional fluency through your appearance. When you dress for the job you want, however, you're taking it a step further by enabling others to see you as you see yourself — which in this case, is in a position of greater authority or expertise.
Part of what makes your interview outfit such an integral part of the process is because your outfit complements your ability. Similarly, how you dress speaks on behalf of your capabilities — even if it isn't directly aligned with your performance. For example, someone in another department would have no idea how you're performing in your role unless you outwardly told them, but they may assume you're excelling if your professional blazer and color pop flats make you look like you are.
Some companies have moved toward more casual dress codes because they value their employees' quality of work over their quality of dress. In these cases, an employee who's underproducing and underperforming may decrease their chances of changing positions, no matter how stylish their wardrobe is.
Dressing for the job you have shows you understand your company's culture and the nature of your current role. Dressing for the job you want, especially if you have a ways to go to get there, may come off as outdated or out of touch with your work environment.
From classy couture to fashionably functional, there's no denying the impact your style choices can have on your professional reputation. And while it may not be necessary to dress for every job you want, your style choices could increase your chances of landing the following five:
If you're trying to reach Anna Wintour status — that is, managing an internationally recognized lifestyle magazine — then you're going to want to look like the most powerful person in the room. Try an edgy cut, vibrant patterns and textures like leather or raw denim.
Our former first lady, Michelle Obama, showed us all how to dress stylishly and professionally — with no reservations. Invest in a bold tuxedo, tailored separates and a sharp court shoe for a chic look. And don't be afraid to get creative with cowl necks, bell sleeves and statement earrings to go with a neutral-colored dress.
As one of our favorite talk show hosts, Ellen Degeneres is known for pairing fun staples with tasteful separates. Loose professional pieces are an excellent way to mix and match your wardrobe, if you like combining clothes to create more looks. You can also dress up each look with a closed toe heel, or down with a clean tennis shoe.
Singer and song-writer, Beyoncé, can do it all — she can sing, dance, act, sell and even rock a high ponytail on the red carpet. If you want to channel her entrepreneurial vibes, experiment with a funky jumpsuit, blazer dresses or a geometrically patterned bag. You could also play with hair colors and styles for a complete, editorial look.
If it's even possible, Rihanna's style has gotten even more fashionably striking since being appointed ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of her home country. You can take your own style up a notch by wearing a silhouette statement dress, a two-toned tweed jacket or pairing a breathable blouse with a pencil skirt.
Whether you're pro "dress for the job you want" or would rather dress for the job you already have, one truth remains the same for both sides: it's important to look the part. If "the part" is right where you are, then we wish you much success in your role, no matter how you look! But if you define "the part" as a future self you're ready to step into, then we hope this article could open that door for you — if even just a crack.
Stephanie Nieves is the SEO & Editorial Associate on the Fairygodboss team. Her words can also be found on Medium, PayScale and The Muse.