Interview style in the tropics

By Tricia Liverpool

Interview style in the tropics

​Since moving to Singapore 5 years ago, I noticed that some people seemed to use the hot weather as an excuse to dress poorly for work or more worryingly job interviews. I had never witnessed so many cheap sandals, micro skirts and lace tops sashaying down a CBD street during peak hours.

Also the number of short pants, grubby shoes and bad coloured shirt and tie combinations were alarming.

Recently one post on Facebook’s famous Singapore Expat Wives (SEW) Group, by ”Anonymous” was a woman who was looking to go back to work after several years out being a stay at home Mum. She was distressed not only as she wasn’t sure what to wear for her first interview in years, but because that interview was in Singapore and she was confused and concerned by what seemed acceptable.

Making the right first impression isn’t hard if you keep in mind three basic points when buying clothes for the office:​


1. Presentation counts.

2. Casual shouldn’t mean slovenly.

3. Dress as you want to be seen: Serious, professional, upward-bound and ready to meet clients.

If you want to be a manager, check out what the successful managers wear. Next, check out the rising stars in the office. Here’s betting they don’t show up for work in their weekend wear.

The advice I gave to the SEW author was to wear a jacket as despite Singapore’s heat, this simple item screams professionalism and of course it can always be taken off during the interview. I also advised on minimal jewellery, understated make up and closed shoes as whilst sandals are the norm here particularly in less corporate environments, it is always good to delay exposing your toes until you feel that it is more acceptable. Better still, save that look for dress down Fridays.

When in doubt, go traditional. If unsure, dress conservatively. However the best way to avoid a problem is to understand the corporate culture.

That’s a polite way of saying that a corporate company won’t appreciate your showing up for work in cut-offs and flip-flops, while a hip creative outfit will think you’re insane if you sit at your desk in a three-piece suit.​

For men, traditional attire includes:

  • A button-down shirt.

  • Smart black shoes.

  • A dark coloured jacket.

  • Dark pants that complement the jacket.

  • You can’t go wrong with a conservative tie or if it is a more “funky” environment you can dispense with it entirely, especially if you have that jacket to hand.


Don’t forget the socks. Here’s a hot tip for fashion-impaired Y-chromosome types everywhere: buy two dozen pairs of identical black or blue socks so you can pluck two at random from your drawer each morning and always have a match. The white Michael Jackson sock is a definite no no.

Rule of thumb: Always dress for the task at hand. If you’re a civil engineer headed for a construction site, jeans, a flannel shirt and work boots are fine, but that’s not how to dress when making a formal presentation to the most senior guys at the office. Believe it or not, otherwise intelligent people are remarkably dumb about this basic point.

Ultimately appearance can create credibility. You know this from your own experience watching TV with everything from reality television to focusing on politics. Think of the number of times experts from opposing sides of an issue have made good points during an exchange, but you remember what one said simply because that person was better dressed and came across better on screen.

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