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How to Dress For an Interview

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A first impression is the most important thing you give to a prospective employer. Your interviewer has already read your resume, and may have even talked to you on the phone. Chances are, they have already formed a preliminary opinion of you. When you step into that interview room, it is important that you need to meet or exceed that expectation.

You don’t need to knock them out with an Armani suit or a $1,200 briefcase, because violence won’t get you anywhere. (kidding! ;) ) Instead, focus on presenting a clean cut, professional image. If you shop around, you can easily build a professional wardrobe on a budget. Focus on the classics and you will never go wrong.

How to Dress for an Interview:

Dress for an InterviewThe most important thing to do is dress the part. You don’t want to interview for a foreman’s position at a factory dressed in a suit and tie. A coat and tie would not only be out of place, but potentially dangerous to wear. You would probably want to wear slacks and a polo shirt, and be prepared to walk through dirty and potentially hazardous areas. Conversely, you wouldn’t want to show up to an interview at a financial institution wearing khakis and a polo if everyone else is wearing a dark suit and tie.

These are extreme examples, but they present a valid point. Be aware of the company’s culture and try to fit in from the start. If you are unsure what to wear, give the HR rep a call and ask. If you are still unsure, dress one level higher than you think you need to. Look the part, act the part, be the part.

Choose your suit carefully. If you elect to wear a suit, choose a solid, dark color. Leave the black suit at home, because black suits are generally associated with being either power suits (high level executives and bankers) or for weddings and funerals. Small pinstripes are acceptable, but only if they are light and blend well. You don’t want to go into most interviews with bold ¼” stripes all over your suit. That could easily distract the interviewer’s attention.

Wear a plain white or off-white shirt. The idea here is to keep the focus on you, not your clothes. A solid white or off-white shirt won’t distract the interviewers like striped or patterned shirts could.

You have options with the tie. A plain tie is a simple, elegant, and always in fashion. However, it’s probably a good idea to stay away from the loud, visually distracting ties. Ties with argyle print, or Daffy Duck probably aren’t the best choice for most interviews. The emphasis should be on you and your interview answers, not your clothing.

Go easy on the jewelry. If you are a male, keep the jewelry light. Wear your wedding ring if you are married and maybe a watch or tie clip, but consider leaving the jewelry at home, in your car, or concealed beneath your clothing. Females should wear simple accessories and stay away from large dangling pieces which can distract the interviewer. Again, the focus is on you, not your jewelry.

Neatly groom your hair. Guys, get a haircut and comb your hair. But be sure not to weigh it down with half a bottle of gel – that’s disgusting. Women, consider a simple style and try to keep your hair from covering your face, which will be distracting to the interviewers.

Skip the perfume or cologne. Many people are allergic to perfumes and scents and the last thing you want is to have an interviewer cut short the interview because they can’t physically be in the room with you without sneezing. That is a quick way to end the interview and miss out on what could possibly be a great opportunity.

Polish those shoes! Many people forget this simple, but important part of their wardrobe. Your shoes don’t need a mirror shine, but they should be clean, polished, and presentable. Polishing your shoes also makes them last longer.

Other accessories and tips. Wear plain dark socks and a belt to match your shoes. Be sure to leave a pager or cell phone in your car, or turn them off.

These tips won’t guarantee you will ace your interview, but at least you know you will present yourself in a professional manner. And that is half the battle! The other half… well, that is up to you! Good luck. :)

photo credit: Henkster.


Published or updated February 24, 2012.
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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dividend Growth Investor

I would also advice you to remove any keys or coins from your pockets.. Otherwise you might be making funny ( unprofesisonal) noises as you walk..

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2 Ryan

Great tip, DGI. :)

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3 Ron@TheWisdomJournal

It always amazes me that people don’t intuitively know this stuff. We’ve become so casual in our society and lax in our appearance that it comes across as lazy and sloppy. Hey–if he/she dresses sloppy for an interview, he/she probably won’t do good work. Interviewers don’t explicitly think this but it DOES register in their minds.

One of the best ways to find out what to wear (I’ve found) is to ask. Ask the person on the phone interview when you’re asked to come in for a face to face, “What’s the typical style of dress around the office?”

If you don’t feel comfortable asking your interviewer, ask the receptionist!

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4 Frugal Dad

Good advice, particularly on the cell phones. Best to just leave them in your car. I recently interviewed a lady for a position and her cell phone rang about 5 minutes into the Q&A. We hired her anyway because she was so graceful about handling the interruption (never skipped a beat in her answer and maintained eye contact while muting the phone), but it could have been a deal-breaker.

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5 plonkee

unless you wear one of those really thin ones with a flat end form the 80’s. Those aren’t in fashion!

My 16 year old brother would beg to disagree. Based on what he wears on the weekend plain black versions of those are deeply fashionable (preferably with tomato red skinny jeans). Still, probably means it’s not suitable for a job interview.

If you don’t know what to wear, and you have time, you could hang around the place at hometime or lunchtime and see what people are wearing – might give you a clue.

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6 Shanti @ Antishay

I’m also surprised by how much this information has to be drilled home with some people. For me, it’s just common sense!

I would advise also to WOMEN: don’t wear heavy makeup. You’ll most likely be under fluorescent lights, which will make you look paler and a little more washed out. The result is that your subtle eye makeup and blush suddenly seem a lot more harsh. Couple that with any possible sweating, and a lot of makeup is a road to disaster. Think about how you do your makeup when you’re going out for errands in the bright afternoon, vs. how you do your makeup for evening dates. Lean toward the afternoon-style makeup for interviews.

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7 Andrew

Another thing I’ve noticed occasionally is that some people don’t press their clothes. This is particularly true for those in town just for an interview. They’ve packed their suits/shirts and didn’t iron. It looks sloppy.

Ron, good call on the dress code issue. As a consultant, I’m always meeting clients and often ask my contacts’ admins about the dress code. This works just as well for interviews.

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8 Myfinancebutler

Good post… I’d add to make sure you aren’t chewing gum when you go in.

But really, I’d also add that you should be comfortable in what you wear. If you’re wearing the ‘right’ clothes, but they feel wrong, no other part of the interview (besides the first impression) will go well. It’s about rules, sure, but it’s also about comfort.

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9 Term Life Pro

I totally agree about matching the wardrobe of the company. When I was younger I applied to work at a smoothie shop. I went there almost every day after I worked out at the gym next door. I knew a lot of the people that worked there. After being called back for a group interview, I went dressed up in slacks, a dress shirt, and a tie. When I got there, I was the only one dressed up. Even the guy interviewing was a lot more casual than me. Needless to say I didn’t get the job. Not sure if that was because of the way I looked or because my schedule didn’t fit their needs. Either way, I doubt my appearance helped any.

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10 Ryan

Andrew, Great comment! I’ve also noticed a lot of people don’t pay attention to the details – wrinkled clothing, unpolished/worn shoes, dirt under the fingernails, non-matching clothing, etc.

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11 Slinky

While I do agree that people should be dressed appropriately for interviews and for the company and job they’re looking for, I disagree with some parts of this.

This article seems to think that everyone should dress very bland and identical. How do you make that first impression if you look like all the others? Obviously don’t go overboard, and take the job and field into consideration, but only grey or navy suits(navy is pretty old fashioned now I think anyway), white shirts and solid ties? Really??

Obviously, your age must be taken into account as well. Personally, I have a light grey suit with a bit of stripe, not a pinstripe, more textural than anything. It’s got lace…yes, lace on the collar and such. I generally wear a bold colored shirt with it and carry a small, but interesting purse and a portfolio. It’s served me very well. I’m just graduating college next week, but I’ve had my job lined up since last fall and I have been called back for a second interview every time I’ve interviewed. Obviously, that’s more me than my suit, but it’s obviously not hurting anything, and is hardly conventional.

Definately keep it professional, but that doesn’t have to mean boring. And make sure your suit fits well. An ill fitting suit can make you look sloppy even of you’re not.

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12 Ryan

Slinky,

Great comment. I agree, adding a little flair can definitely work in your favor, just stay away from too much “bling” unless you are interviewing for a job that calls for that. I also agree people need to wear a suit that fits well.

A lot of what you decide to wear depends on where you are interviewing and your industry. The important thing is to be comfortable with yourself and in that environment.

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13 Stanley

Great points Ryan. At the same time, one must add:
- Fitting is even more important than color. The fit MUST be right: not too big, not too small. One can wear the most expensive suit with all the right colors, but if the fit is wrong, one is rendered ridiculous
- Ryan mentioned belt and shoes. This point is crucial: they must match and must be impeccable. As an example, the first thing that women notice on men is the belt/shoes combo. Thus, men must keep it in mind when being interviewed by the opposite sex
- Regarding colors, I think that one should be a bit bolder than prescribed by Ryan. I find being too color safe boring. However, using bright colors is a gamble. Too much bright colors will create a clash with people. Using a slight touch of bright coloring emphasizes a sense of elegance, confidence, and accentuates one’s attractiveness. Remember that the goal is to differentiate oneself from the crowd with one’s skills, character, and also fashion. Like Ryan says, “a first impression is the most important thing you give to a prospective employer. “

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