During any job interview, your conduct, interpersonal skills and your ability to articulate intelligent responses to the interviewer’s questions will understandably be the most important elements of your interview. However, your attire also plays a powerful and important role at a time when not only your skills and knowledge are being evaluated, but also your overall professionalism and credibility.
Arriving at your interview wearing well-fitting business appropriate attire conveys a clear message of your professionalism, while demonstrating you are serious about the opportunity before you. Dressing smartly is also complementary to the person with whom you are meeting. Dressing better than you may need to, provides an added side benefit of boosting your confidence. Even if you are aware of a casual dress code within an organization, go ahead and dress up for your interview, unless instructed otherwise by the employer. Be mindful that in some industries, customer contact and the image you’ll present is critically important. In these environments your attire will be judged with a higher degree of scrutiny. Be sure that all apparel is neat, clean, and well pressed with no loose threads, lint, or pet hair.
Even if you’re working within a limited budget, a single good quality suit will be sufficient for an effective job search. That single suit mixed with a variety of shirts/blouses neck ties and other accessories will provide a varied look you can feel confident in wearing.
Thankfully, unlike other elements in our wardrobes, the mainstay of appropriate professional attire does not go in or out of style with the changing times. Granted, colors, lapel width, or the cut of pants may change, but a good quality business suit will last for years if it continues to fit well and is properly cared for.
Interview Attire tips for men and women
A matched two piece suit in solid colors such as dark grey, black or navy will be a solid choice. Subtle patterns and weaves are fine too, just be sure those patterns are indeed subtle. Select good quality natural and synthetic fabrics which will be comfortable while avoiding low quality acetate or rayon blends. If you’re unsure in making a selection, consult with your favorite men’s or women’s clothing store for ideas in selecting attire and fabrics that are business appropriate.
You shouldn’t pressure yourself to purchase a top-of-the-line wardrobe suitable for a corporate CEO, but investing in affordable quality will pay you dividends many times over. Quality apparel is easier to care for, and durable enough to look appropriate during your first two or three years on the job.
Interview Attire tips for Non-Suit wearing work environments:
Wearing a suit to an interview will always send a clear message that you take the interview seriously. However, if you believe the industry in which you’re interviewing would frown on a suit, or you may be visiting a work site where a suit would be inappropriate, ask the person with whom you’ll be interviewing, or contact the employers human resources department for some guidelines. Your inquiry will be well received. Another avenue for advice is professional organizations related to the industry or professors who have been employed in that industry. One business appropriate alternative for both women and men is to wear pressed pants like khakis and a dark jacket. This is a less formal option than a matching suit but still presents a professional business appropriate image.
Additional interview attire considerations for men
A two-piece matched suit is always the best and safest choice. Don’t combine a suit jacket with pants that don’t match. Not a suit environment? See guidelines above.
Conservative colors / fabric
Navy and dark gray are safe and are the most conservative for men. Black for men was once considered severe or overly formal, and may still be considered so in very conservative industries, although it is commonly worn by many. Other color trends may come and go; avoid the extremes. Choose a solid or very subtle weave pattern or plaid (the kind that look solid across a room). Wool, wool blends, or very high quality natural and synthetic fiber blends are acceptable fabrics for a conservative men’s suit.
Cost / quality
You are not expected to be able to afford the same clothing as a corporate CEO. Do invest in quality that will look appropriate during your first two or three years on the job. One good quality suit is sufficient for a job search if that is all your budget allows. You can vary your shirt and tie.
Tie styles come and go. Select good quality silk ties.
Avoid fashion extremes, like character ties, in interviews.
Notice what men in your industry wear on the job, at career fairs, at information sessions, when they meet with clients.
Long-sleeved shirts, even in summer. Choose white or light blue solid, or conservative stripes. A dark shirt might be acceptable in a non-conservative industry. Avoid being trendy.
Dark socks, mid-calf length so no skin is visible when you sit down.
Leather, lace-up or slip-on business shoes, preferably black or cordovan. Invest in a good pair; even if you don’t wear them daily on the job, you’ll need them for other occasions and you should expect to get lots of years out of good shoes.
Black or cordovan leather, to match your shoes.
If worn, should be well-groomed. Observe men in your industry if you are unsure what’s appropriate or are considering changing your look.
Wear a conservative watch. If you choose to wear other jewelry, be conservative. Removing earrings is safest. For conservative industries, don’t wear earrings. Observe other men in your industry to see what is acceptable.
Everything should be clean and well pressed. Suits typically have tacking stitches to hold vents — on the jacket back and on sleeves — in place before the garment is purchased. Cut them off if your retailer / tailor doesn’t. And that tag stitched on the outside of your sleeve is not meant to stay there like a Tommy Hilfiger label — cut it off! Carefully inspect clothes dangling threads, etc.
Additional interview attire specifics for women
Don’t confuse club attire with business attire. If you would wear it to a club, you probably shouldn’t wear it in a business environment.
Wear a two-piece matched suit. Not a suit environment? See guidelines above.
Suit – pants / skirts
Tailored pants suits are appropriate for women. Pants suits can be an excellent choice for site visits, particularly if the visit involves getting in and out of vehicles and/or the site is (or includes) a manufacturing plant or industrial facility. If you wear pants, they should be creased and tailored, not tight or flowing. If you are pursuing a conservative industry and are in doubt, observe well dressed women in your industry on the job, at career fairs, at information sessions, etc.
Much of what you see on television shows that masquerades for professional attire is actually inappropriate for a work environment. Your skirt should cover your thighs when you are seated. Showing a lot of thigh makes you look naive at best, foolish at worst. A skirt that ends at the knee when you’re standing looks chic and professional. Longer skirts are professional too; just make sure they are narrow enough not to be billowing, but not so narrow that you can’t climb stairs comfortably. Don’t purchase a skirt or decide on a hem length until you sit in the skirt facing a mirror. That’s what your interviewer will see. Ask yourself whether it will be distracting or reinforce your image as a person who looks appropriate for a business environment or gathering. High slits in skirts are not appropriate. A small back, center slit in a knee-length skirt is appropriate. On a calf length skirt, a slit to the knee to facilitate walking and stair climbing is appropriate.
Color / fabric
Navy, dark gray, brown and black are safe. Other color trends may come and go; avoid the extremes. Women generally have more options with suit color than men. For example, while a women could look conservative in a slate blue or light gray suit, these colors would be inappropriate for men. Choose a solid or very subtle weave pattern or plaid (the type that looks solid across a room). Wool, wool blends, and high quality blends and synthetics are appropriate for women’s suiting.
Shirt / sweaters
Underneath the suit jacket, wear a tailored blouse in a color or small print that coordinates nicely with your suit. A fine gauge, good quality knit shell is also appropriate underneath your suit jacket. Don’t show cleavage. (Remember that television shows are trying to attract viewers, and don’t represent reality of the professional environment.)
Jewelry / accessories
Wear a conservative watch. Jewelry and scarf styles come and go. Keep your choices simple and leaning toward conservative. Avoid extremes of style and color. If your industry is creative, you may have more flexibility than someone pursuing a conservative industry.
Keep makeup conservative. A little is usually better than none for a polished look. Nails should be clean and well groomed. Avoid extremes of nail length and polish color, especially in conservative industries.
Should be leather or fabric / micro fiber. Shoe styles and heel heights come and go. Choose closed-toe pumps. Regardless of what is in style, avoid extremes; no stilettos or chunky platforms. Make certain you can walk comfortably in your shoes; hobbling in uncomfortable shoes does not convey a professional appearance.
Should be plainly styled (no patterns), sheer is most conservative (not opaque), and in neutral colors complementing your suit. Avoid high contrast between your suit and hosiery color.
If you choose to carry a purse, keep it small and simple, and select a color that coordinates with your shoes. You may choose to carry a small briefcase or business-like tote bag in place of a purse. Avoid oversized purses
Grooming tips for everyone
Your hair should be neat and clean.
Your shoes should be clean and polished. Make sure the heels are not worn.
Be certain your hands are clean, with well trimmed fingernails. Don’t over-do the jewelry.
Clothes should be clean, neatly pressed, and fit properly. No lint, pet hair, loose buttons or stitches.
Perfumes and colognes
Perfume or cologne should be used sparingly or not at all. Remember some people may have allergies/sensitivities; and you wouldn’t want to derail an interview. No odors in clothes. Don’t smell like smoke.
A simple portfolio or Pad folio is much preferred over a bulky briefcase. A small briefcase can also be appropriate, But if you have no reason to carry a briefcase, don’t; keep it simple.
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