How to Dress for a Nursing Interview

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You have only one opportunity to make a first impression. How you dress conveys what you think about your value. In an interview, you probably will communicate your value in a matter of seconds. You know all these things because you've heard them at least a hundred times. So why are you stumped about what to wear for a nursing interview? Maybe because you realize the stakes are high, and you don't want to make a mistake. And you won't – as long as two basic tenets guide your wardrobe choices: simplicity and conservatism.

Fit Right In? By Wearing Scrubs?

Job seekers are often told to dress as though they already have the job they're interviewing for; this way, it's easier for the interviewer to envision them in the work environment. And if job seekers are unsure about the workplace dress code, they're told not to take chances and dress “one step up.” For women who might consider wearing a dress, this means wearing a business suit. And for men who may be tempted to forgo a tie, this means tying that dreaded knot.

Conventional wisdom holds that no one ever holds over-dressing against a job applicant. But under-dressing? This could unwittingly send the message that a casual dress code translates to a casual (meaning, lackadaisical) attitude toward work. And it could risk an immediate disqualification before an interview really gets started.

This conventional wisdom doesn't help potential nurses, who usually wear scrubs to work. So ratchet up the advice by two steps, and dress as though you are interviewing for a job in a business environment, which in a way, you are.

Wardrobe Advice for Women

Wear a business suit, pairing a jacket with a matching pair of slacks or knee-length skirt. Remember the maxim that “solids are soothing,” so go with a suit in navy blue, gray or beige rather than a pattern. If you don't have a solid white or ivory, button-down blouse, substitute a scoop-necked or V-neck top in its place. But take a good look in the mirror first and make sure the top fully covers your chest. Even bending over a desk to sign a document could reveal more than you intend to an interviewer.

Complete your professional look with minimal jewelry. You may love dangling necklaces, bangle bracelets and rings on multiple fingers, but they will serve as a visual distraction during an interview. “Less may be more,” but with jewelry, even less than that is the smart move for an interview. Case in point: earrings. Choose posts instead of hoops. Your goal is to focus attention during the interview on you, not on your choice of accessories.

For the same reason, choose low-heeled and close-toed shoes. They may not be the most stylish shoes in your collection, but they'll convey the serious look you're after. And you'll be glad you chose them in case you're taken on a tour of the hospital or health care facility. Your shoes may not be new, but they should look that way. Believe it or not, some interviewers are trained to assess a candidates' shoes for dirt and scuffs, which can put a dark mark next to a nurse's chances of landing a job.

Wardrobe Advice for Men

Men have fewer options than women, but they too should wear a solid-colored suit, opting for navy blue or gray over black, which can look stark and depressing. Either way, a dress shirt in a pale color such as white or cream is a safe choice. Choosing a suitable tie may be the biggest challenge, but if it comes down to a choice between a colorful, flashy tie and a bland, subdued one, the latter should win out.

Gender-Neutral Advice

Men may be just as tempted as women to reach for a fragrance, hoping that it will make a pleasing impression. But everybody's olfactory skills are different; what is pleasing to one person could be offensive to another. So leave perfumes, body sprays and after-shaves bottled up.

Since you're dressed conservatively and covered up, any body tattoos should be disguised, too. And if you're fond of a facial earring, it's best to leave it at home – and maybe wear it when you go out to celebrate landing your new nursing job.