How to Dress for a Job Interview

I planned my outfit the day before the interview. It was cute and classy: a button-up top, pleated skirt, and heels. The next day was pouring rain, and what I thought was a great outfit completely failed. My feet were soaked, I dropped my bag in a puddle (which made me look totally unprofessional), and my hair was frizzy and dripping. I didn’t notice until after the interview that the armpits of my mustard yellow blouse were soaked 5 inches wide with sweat.

This experience, as well as others, taught me the dos and don’ts of dressing for an interview. Please learn from my mistakes, not your own.

 

Sell Yourself

In a job interview, you are advertising you. You want potential employers to see that you are skilled, professional, and charismatic. Although your skills may seem like the most important aspect of a job interview, people judge first by appearances.

Here are basic rules you should follow when it comes to dressing for a job interview.

Know Before You Go

Before the interview, do your research on the position you’re interviewing for and the company you’re trying to join. Each company has its own culture, and one of the most important things hiring managers look for is compatibility. They want someone who will mesh well with their company. Your outfit can help with that. Go online and look up what their signature style is. Are they suit and tie professional, business casual, or come as you are?

American author and business journalist Suzy Welch told CNBC this story. "I know a Stanford grad who sat in the parking lot the day before his interview at a Seattle startup to check out what the employees were wearing," she says. "He really wanted the job — and he got it." Looking like you belong will help hiring managers feel you belong and increase your chances of getting hired.

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It’s Okay to Overdress

I once arrived for an interview wearing a dress and heels only to be greeted by a boss wearing jeans and a sweater. I felt overdressed and out of place. Not fitting in with the crowd can be nerve-racking, but when it comes to an interview it’s okay to be a little overdressed. Actually, it’s preferred.

Antonio Centeno, founder of Real Men Real Style, calls this the “one-step higher” rule: “Dress one significant level of formality higher than you would for a day on the job.” So if the job requires you to wear a nice shirt but no tie, then wear a tie and a blazer to the interview. If it only requires jeans and a t-shirt, wear khakis and a button-up for the interview.

Suzy Welch says, "Dressing up is a signal that you understand your interviewers are in the power seat." She said, "You're showing respect; that's always attractive." Dressing up shows that you are prepared. So if you show up wearing a tie and the interviewer is wearing a t-shirt, don’t freak out.

 

Don’t Forget to Groom

It’s not just your clothes that determine your first impression. To improve your chances of getting the job and to save yourself from embarrassment, remember these grooming tips:

  • Don’t wear cologne or perfume. I once had an interviewer who was allergic to lavender. That was the wrong day to wear my lavender perfume.

  • Clean your fingernails. Dirty nail beds are unattractive and show you don’t care for yourself. Also, don’t wear chipped nail polish.

  • Brush your teeth. Nobody wants leftover food in their teeth during an interview. And pop in a mint a few minutes beforehand.

  • Don’t overdo your makeup. Wear neutral colors and steer clear of sparkles.

  • Shower and shave. You want to look sharp, so keep your hair trimmed and clean.

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Details Matter

Although you’ve spent so much time working on your resume and practicing answering interview questions, remember that the details of your appearance matter too. Here’s a few tips:

  • Wear an undershirt to hide your sweat. (You’ll probably sweat more than normal.)

  • Shine your shoes.

  • Wear dark colored socks that don’t draw attention.

  • Ladies, do not wear open-toed shoes. Toes are too personal for a first-time greeting. Also keep your heels below 4 inches.

  • Check your outfit for stains and wrinkles ahead of time. And bring some Tide to go just in case.

  • Have a nice bag, briefcase, or folder. Your everyday backpack or purse is probably not the look you want.


You Look Great

Your appearance is important because it will help future employers see your potential instead of getting distracted by your untamed hair or the zipper your forgot to do up after your last trip to the bathroom. Give them every reason possible to hire you.

And remember that the best thing you can wear to an interview is confidence. Your body language is just as important as your outfit. To learn how to use body language to your advantage, check out the article How to Read and Use Body Language.