What to wear to a job interview
Nothing says ‘Hire me’ like a polished interview outfit – think classic, tasteful and tailored, and you can’t go wrong. For men that often means a suit and tie, and for women a skirt/dress pants and blazer or dress.
But dressing for an interview is not always so simple, and putting together a killer interview outfit needs to take into consideration the culture of the organisation you’re interviewing with and the message you want to send. Someone interviewing to be a programmer at a tech start-up would probably dress a little differently from someone interviewing for a financial manager’s role.
Choosing your interview outfit: find out what is appropriate
Choosing your interview outfit is all about appropriateness for the role and the company. Dress codes are cultural, and they shift with the seasons and change over time – but as a general rule it’s wise to err on the side of caution. Interviews are not the place to push the sartorial envelope unless you really want to make a bold statement.
One of the best ways to clarify what to wear to a job interview is the simplest: ask beforehand.
Email or call the employer’s HR manager before your interview, and ask them about the appropriate dress code for interviews with their company. It’s a simple strategy, but it can help you to avoid overdressing or underdressing and ensure you hit the right note.
You could also do some company research on LinkedIn or Facebook. Check out employee profiles and office photos to see how they dress and present themselves. Whatever the dress code appears to be, the rule of thumb is to take it up a notch when you decide what to wear to the interview.
General guidelines for what to wear to an interview
More than anything, you want to present as a consummate professional with impeccable grooming – and impeccable grooming is defined by attention to detail. You need to consider every aspect of your appearance, and don’t leave it to the last minute.
Here are some details to consider when planning your interview outfit:
- Think of the message you want to send: are you going to go full ‘power suit’ or do you want to give a more relaxed vibe with chinos/slacks and a nice shirt and blazer (this applies equally to men and women)?
- Wear colours that suit you and give some thought to the message they send: blue is considered a safe and ‘dependable’ colour, while bright colours make a bold statement that might be more appropriate in creative roles and industries. Avoid overly busy or shiny clothes.
- Choose breathable fabrics that will keep you cool and dry.
- For women, avoid interview outfits that are too revealing and keep heels at a sensible height.
- Keep jewellery and accessories understated, and avoid anything too flashy or distracting (multiple bangles, for example).
- Check the weather – will you need a jacket and scarf, or should you avoid the wool suit if it’s going to be sweltering?
- You can still express yourself and be you – especially if the role is partly about who you are as a ‘brand’ – but avoid clothing styles that are too ‘out there’, which could distract, alienate or confuse your employer.
- If it’s been a while since you’ve worn your interview outfit, you need to try it on to ensure it still fits. There’s nothing like realising the morning of the interview that your go-to killer interview outfit now fits like a body-sock and is no longer appropriate.
- Check your interview outfit over thoroughly for dirt and stains, especially collars and cuffs (and ties). Does it need to be drycleaned?
- you’re at it, check your outfit for any holes, missing buttons or loose threads. Women wearing tights or pantyhose should check them for runs.
- Ensure that your shoes are clean and give them a polish.
- Don’t forget to check your bag or briefcase and ensure that it, too, is clean and presentable.
- Iron and lay out your interview outfit the night before. Remove lint with a lint brush right before you put your outfit on.
- Polished presentation is about more than just your clothes. It includes every aspect of your grooming, including your hair and nails. Are you overdue for a haircut, colour or manicure? If so, get these attended to ahead of time.
- Avoid dousing yourself in perfume or aftershave. Less is definitely more!
- Women should avoid excessive makeup.
- If you have tattoos, the safe strategy is to keep them covered for the interview – wear long sleeves that will cover arm tattoos, for example.
- If you think it might rain, bring an umbrella – after all your efforts, you don’t want your look to be ruined by a drenching on the way to the interview.
Dressing up for an interview when you already have a job
One of the trickiest aspects of interviewing is how to dress up for an interview without raising suspicion from your present employer, especially if your regular workplace attire tends to be quite casual.
If possible, try to schedule your interview for the beginning or end of the day, when it might be possible to get changed into your normal workwear either before or after the interview. If your interview is during the day, wear the basics of your interview outfit but leave off the more formal touches, such as jacket, tie or heels, bringing them with you and only putting them on when you leave the office and are on your way to the interview. If this is still too formal for your workplace, you may have to bring your entire interview outfit with you and find a place to change before the interview.
If none of these options are feasible and you’ll be turning up at the interview in less than appropriate interview attire, it’s best to let the interviewer know ahead of time and explain why.
Interview outfits are not just for interviews
These days everyone needs to be aware of their digital presence, knowing that LinkedIn is often one of the first places recruiters look when searching for candidates. Expect to be digitally pre-screened before your interview and ensure that your LinkedIn (and any other social media) profile picture looks professional. When having your profile picture taken, simply follow the same outfit guidelines as if you’re interviewing for a job.
The same applies for any candidates having a video or digital interview: dress exactly the same as if you were having a face-to-face interview, with the same attention to detail – head to toe. Not only will it put you in the right mindset, it will also ensure you don’t get caught out if you have to get up from your seat. You don’t want to be the candidate caught in their pyjama bottoms!