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The Ultimate Guide on What to Wear to an Interview

02 Nov 2015 by

whatToWear

When interviewing for a job, there is more the interviewers consider than just your answers to their questions.  What you wear can impress an interviewer or ruin your chances of getting hired.  Read on to learn everything you need to know to impress employers with your dress.

Do my clothes really matter?

YES! While more important in some industries than others, what you choose to wear to an interview affects the interviewer’s impression of you. Although your clothes don’t define you, it is a natural response to judge based on appearance. This is especially true when meeting someone for the first time, with little else on which to base an opinion.

Amy Glass, a trainer and coach at Brody Communications Ltd. of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and an expert on presentation skills, business etiquette, professional presence and interpersonal communication said,

“Your image matters because it shows your attentiveness to detail and gives recruiters an idea of how you’ll represent their company to clients, both internally and externally. The visual message you send makes a big difference in how you’re perceived and, ultimately, whether or not you get the job.”

Go ahead and ask what to wear if you’re not sure!

Different organizations vary greatly in their employee dress codes.  Some require a suit for men, others require panty hose for women, and some are ok with a t-shirt and flip-flops.  It can be especially unclear in less traditional industries like graphic design and IT. So when preparing for a job interview, how do you know what to wear?

The best answer is to ask the hiring manager, HR person, recruiter, or whoever invites you to interview, what the appropriate dress is for their company.  This shows respect for the company and a desire to fit in with the company culture, which is part of what an interviewer looks for.

If for some reason this is not an option, try looking on the company website for cues as to how the employees dress.  When in doubt, it is better to overdress than underdress. Before you even open your mouth, an impression has already begun to form in the employer’s mind based on your appearance, and first impressions stick!  A bad choice of clothing, makeup, or hairstyle could distract the employer from your qualifications or make him not take you seriously. 

 

Dress codes and what they mean

When asking HR what to wear to your interview, they won’t tell you, “a neutral color blazer with pants, close-toed pumps, and a simple pair of earrings.” Instead, they might say, “business formal,” “business casual,” or type of dress code policy.  But what do those mean? Below, four typical dress codes are reviewed so you have a better idea of what to wear to work.

Business Formal

This is the most formal of all professional dress, and is typically required of executives, people that work in law, and other high-level positions.

Men:

  • A tailored, neutral colored suit.
  • Wear a white, collared, button-up shirt.
  • A high-end, modest tie.  If you choose a bright color, make sure it’s a solid.  Patterns are ok if they consist of more mellow colors.  Avoid ties with words, cartoon-like pictures, and mascots.
  • Closed-toe, polished, brown or black oxfords.
  • Short, neatly cut hair is preferable, although long hair tied back may be acceptable depending on the company.
  • Well groomed, clean nails.

 

Women:

  • A neutral colored pant or skirt suit.  If wearing a skirt, it should be approximately knee-length.
  • Wear a white, collared, button-up shirt.
  • Closed-toe, neutral colored heels.
  • Tights (dark is preferable).
  • Simple, delicate accessories such as stud earrings, or a delicate silver necklace.
  • Well-groomed, conservative hair cut.
  • Well groomed, clean nails.  If painted, choose either clear or beige polish, or a french manicure.

 

business formal men

business formal men 2

business formal women

business formal 2

Find these outfits on nordstrom.com

Business Professional

Also known as “business traditional,” this is the next step down from business formal, and is very similar.  It’s still a very professional look, but with slightly looser requirements as far as color and accessories go.

Men:

  • A neutral colored suit.  Can be a conservative pinstripe or check.
  • Could wear lighter-colored dress pants with a sports jacket.
  • Button-up, collared shirt.  Can be a color other than white, but keep it conservative.
  • Conservative tie.  May be colorful or have a pattern.
  • High-end accessories (watch, cuff links), optional.
  • Closed-toe, polished, brown or black oxfords or loafers.
  • Well groomed, clean nails.
  • Well-groomed, conservative hair cut. Check with HR for further specifications.

 

Women:

  • Neutral colored pant or skirt suit. If wearing a skirt, it should be approximately knee-length.
  • Button-up, collared shirt in any solid color.
  • Dark or nude-colored hose.
  • Jewelry may be larger, such as dangly earrings, a chunky necklace, or large watch, but should not be distracting.
  • Well groomed, clean nails.  If painted, choose either clear or beige polish, or a french manicure.
  • Well-groomed, conservative hair cut.

 

business prof men

business prof men 2

 

business professional women

business professional women 2

Find these suits on nordstrom.com

Business Casual

Also known as “executive casual,” this is the most common dress code.  While still looking professional, much more color and personality is acceptable.  “Business casual” may differ slightly between companies, so it’s recommended to check with HR for guidelines.

Men:

  • Any colored button-up, collared shirt is acceptable. Conservative patterns like checks or stripes are also acceptable.
  • Conservative tie.  Almost any color is acceptable, but stick to solids, dots, stripes, checks, or other simple patterns.
  • Solid, striped, or other conservatively patterned sweater may be worn over a collared shirt.
  • Dress pants or khakis may be worn with or without a sports jacket.
  • Accessories may be more casual (such as a watch with a leather band).
  • Black or brown oxfords, loafers, or other dressy shoe.
  • Longer hair is usually acceptable (confirm with HR).
  • Well groomed, clean nails.

 

Women:

  • Slacks, khakis or a skirt (instead of a suit) may be paired with a cardigan or jacket.
  • Shirts may be collared button-downs or nice blouses.  Should be modest fitting and solid or simple patterned.
  • Large jewelry and scarves are appropriate.
  • While neutral colors are still the most appropriate, shoes may be almost any color.  They should still be closed-toe, but may be flats or heels.
  • Well groomed, clean nails.  More color is allowed, but still stay fairly conservative.
  •  Neatly styled hair.  May be colored, highlighted, and slightly more casual.

 

 

business casual men

 

business casual men 2

Find these outfits at bananarepublic.com

business casual women

Find this outfit on bananarepublic.com
business casual women 2

Find this outfit on jcrew.com

Casual

Casual dress is just what it sounds like, however, avoid dressing overly casual.  Coworkers tend to judge other’s capabilities at least partially based on their appearance.  So if you take the casual dress code to the extreme, you could make a poor first impression and come off as incompetent.  Take care to maintain a neat, clean appearance that shows you will take your job seriously.

Men:

  • Casual pants or slacks, but avoid jeans unless otherwise stated by HR.  If jeans are acceptable, wear a dark wash.
  • Polo shirts or crew-neck sweaters in almost any color or pattern.  Avoid novelty patterns (like sports team logos).
  • Casual accessories.
  • Clean loafers or sneakers.
  • Clean nails.
  • Neat hair.  Short or long hair is usually acceptable.

 

Women:

  • Modest shirt or blouse, any color.
  • Slacks or knee-length skirts in a casual fabric (like cotton).
  • Open or closed-toed shoes are acceptable, but avoid flip-flops and sneakers.
  • Casual accessories including scarves, small or large jewelry of any quality, casual watches, etc.
  • A variety of hair styles and colors are acceptable.  Uncommon dos are ok, but keep it neat.
  • Nails may be painted any color or design.

Note:  These are the general guidelines for a casual dress code in the workplace.  However, for an interview, it’s best to avoid jeans and sneakers.  Dress casual enough to fit in, but slightly more formal than regular employees.  An interview is a special occasion that you want to show through your appearance, is important to you.

 

casual men

casual men 2

casual women

casual women 2

Find these outfits on gap.com

Make-up guidelines

When it comes to make-up, keep it natural and soft looking.  Make-up should not be distracting to the interviewer.  In other words, choose colors close to your skin-tone (avoid bright eyeshadow, vibrant lipstick, over-the-top blush).  Wear a natural-looking blush.  If you choose to wear eye shadow, it should not be very noticeable, just a gentle natural color (think earth tones). Consider just a clear gloss or lip balm on the lips, or a color similar to your natural color.  Don’t pick any lip product that looks really sticky, dry, or that will smear on your teeth.  Avoid false eyelashes. Choose a waterproof mascara in case you sweat or it rains.  Try a pencil eyeliner instead of liquid cat eyeliner; it’s softer and less harsh.  Here are a couple of examples to refer to:

natural makeup

Image from covergirl.com

natural makeup 2

Image from marykay.com

Hairstyles for her

When choosing your hairstyle, the two most important things to be sure of is that it is neat and out of your face.  Here are a few simple and pretty ideas:

  • Pretty ponytail: avoid frizzy fly-aways, make it look neat.  Consider a side-ponytail!
  • Hair partway pinned back: use bobby pins or a cute clip to pin some hair back while still having the hair-down look
  • A side braid: this is more modern than a braid down your back, and frames your face nicely without getting in the way
  • Wear your hair down: loose curls are a more formal look that will top off a professional outfit nicely
  • A large bun: buns are professional-looking and very in style right now

 

 

hair down

Image from hm.com

simple ponytail

Image from hm.com

 

elegant bun

Image from nordstrom.com

A few extra tips…

What to do if you’re over/under dressed

If you show up for an interview overdressed, take off your suit jacket after the introduction, or discreetly roll up your sleeves to show a more casual look.  If you show up underdressed, try to compensate by being more formal in your manner of speaking and presenting yourself.

Be a smart shopper

If you have multiple interviews at the same company, you don’t have to buy an entirely new outfit for each one. Save money and simply switch up what you wear with the suit. For example, wear a different tie, shirt, scarf, or necklace. Also, don’t feel like you have to spend hundreds of dollars on a suit at Nordstrom. Go ahead and look there for ideas of what to wear, and then look at outlets or other less expensive options for similar but cheaper clothes.  Try Forever 21 or H&M for great clothes at cheap prices.

If you have tattoos or piercings:

Typically, it is advised to cover up your tattoos and remove piercings (besides the average earring) in the workplace if possible.  Exceptions to this include casual work environments and companies where HR has specifically said otherwise.

To hide tattoos, cover them with long sleeves, pants, or dark hose, depending on where they are.  Accessories like scarves and large watches can be used to hide tattoos on the neck and wrist.  When in doubt of what to do, talk to HR to clarify the company policy and see what they recommend for you.

What bag?

For men, use a nice, good-looking briefcase if you have it.  If not, use a quality portfolio binder.  Women, use either a briefcase or a purse, not both!  Make sure that whatever bag you use, it is neat and organized.  Show your organization skills and attention to detail through your bag.

NEVER wear:

  • Clothes that fit poorly: An outfit that is too tight or too short won’t make you look good, you won’t feel comfortable wearing it, and it could be distracting.
  • Really casual clothes: Even if the average employee dresses down, never wear jeans, flip flops, hats, t-shirts, or shorts. Avoid clothes with text or big logos on them.
  • Provocative clothing: Don’t try to get the job with your body, get it by making them see what a great employee you would be. Avoid low-cut, short, really tight, and revealing clothing.
  • Excessive accessories: Although a nice watch, necklace, or pair of earrings could add to your appearance, don’t wear too many. Keep it simple and classy, and avoid jewelry that makes noise when you move or is really shiny and eye-catching.
  • Perfume or cologne.  You never know who could be allergic or sensitive to strong scents.  Even if your interviewer isn’t, don’t risk your smell being a distraction!

 

Plan your outfit ahead of time and dress for success.  When in doubt, err on the side of caution and dress up a little more.  Once your appearance is not a concern, you can just focus on your interview conversation.  Need help preparing for other aspects of your interview?  Click here.

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