The job search process can be long, tedious, and even frustrating. After filling out dozens of applications, landing an interview is pretty exciting! Now it’s time to decide what to wear to a job interview. Don’t let an ill-fitting suit or a lackluster appearance hurt your chances of receiving a job offer.
Instead, wow your interviewer with your attention to detail and fine style. This guide will take you through every step of dressing to impress in the interview.
Whether you just graduated college or you are changing careers, you are destined to participate in the interview process. Interviewing is a skill that you will use forever in your career, no matter which side of the desk you are on.
The interview is, without a doubt, the best time to make the very best possible impression you can make.
This is a situation that calls for a serious business outfit. Why? You, of course, want to be perceived as “serious” about the job, the company and the work you will be doing.
Why You Should Dress Up For Interviews
You may be applying for a “casual dress” job, but the interview is always a dress-up occasion.
You will be trying to convince the person interviewing you that you are the type of person who will fit in at the company, will not “rock the boat”, or call unnecessary attention to yourself (aka the ever-important team player).
That’s the reason to choose conservative clothes and avoid fashion statements. In this case, clothing is an expression of your respect and consideration for the situation.
In the minds of most interviewers, candidates who ignore the importance of “dressing to impress” cannot be serious about the job. Fair or not, interviewers expect interviewees to look a certain way, so disappointing them at first sight, is an almost certain “kiss of death”.
You will need to look “right” to a stranger who is making an important evaluation of you within 30 seconds of meeting you.
And since 90% of you is covered by clothing (hide those tattoos!) the clothing choices you make can have a significant impact, but can be used to your advantage.
Clothes Make the Man
As I’ve said before, clothes really DO make the man.
Most recruiters or personnel executives realize if you’re just starting your career you are on a limited clothing budget, but they will expect clean, appropriate clothing that fits with the style of the company where you are interviewing.
In this competitive age, average doesn’t get you anywhere. To be successful you have to look the part.
Don’t kid yourself that having a good degree, innovative ideas, enthusiasm, motivation and a great personality doesn’t mean that an appropriate appearance is of secondary importance.
If you did not have the first qualities you would not have been invited to interview with the rest of the candidates.
Tip for the Future: After you get the job, dress for the position several levels higher (dress like your boss’s boss). If you want a promotion you must look like you deserve it and can fit into the post.
What to Wear To A Job Interview
Wear a suit (it’s more serious than a sport coat). The best colors are navy or a charcoal gray single-breasted suit. Again, remember we are going for conservative and serious here.
Button your suit when you enter the interview office. You may unbutton it when you sit down. Button it back up when you stand to leave. Always leave the bottom button unbuttoned.
Wear a white shirt with a straight point collar. Only wear long sleeves, please. Never wear a short-sleeve shirt with a tie.
Black vs. Navy – What To Wear To A Job Interview
For men, black is not usually considered appropriate for business (social, funerals – yes). Navy is the dominate power color. However, this has recently been challenged by female executives wearing black since black is such a powerful color.
There is a “rule” in serious business dress you wear a minimum of one pattern and two solids (the elements are your suit, shirt and tie).
So the recommendation for interviewing is a solid color suit and shirt and an appropriate tie with a subtle pattern. Loud shirts or ties will detract from one’s character and bearing. Keep the focus on your skills and qualifications, and away from a loud, distracting outfit.
Best Ties For Job Interviews
When you are choosing the best tie for a job interview, it is important to pick your pattern carefully.
The best choices for ties are solids, stripes, or small patterns. The color of the tie also deserves some thought. An excellent color is burgundy or another conservative color such as hunter green. Avoid louder colors such as pink or yellow. Remember, choose the pattern thoughtfully. Even patterned ties should be limited to a maximum of three colors.
Small patterns in a tie are associated with the upper-middle class and that is usually the group to which your interviewer belongs. Repp ties (stripes) are acceptable to pretty much everyone. Save the expensive “hip” ties for your try at glamorous creative jobs.
You can wear the same suit for subsequent interviews if you change the tie.
The tie should be long enough to reach your belt buckle. Don’t forget the all-important dimple, the indentation under the knot.
Best Socks for Job Interviews
The trousers should be long enough to cover your socks. However, socks may flash through when you cross your legs or go from sitting to standing.
Socks should match your suit and are high enough not to allow any skin to show when you cross your leg.
Best Belts For Job Interviews
Always wear leather belts with quiet, small belt buckles.
What to Wear to a Job Interview: Shoes
One of the most important fashion factors, shoes are a strong statement of personality. Both men and women executives will notice your shoes. Choose black, cordovan or brown classic lace-ups in good repair. Make sure to give them a proper shoe shine before your interview.
Messages Your Shoes Send
Shoes are often one of the most overlooked parts of an interview outfit. Do not make the mistake of paring a carefully chosen outfit with old, worn-out shoes. Your shoes send messages, subtle or otherwise, about your appearance. A few of these include:
- Your economic status — “well-heeled”, expensive shoes
- If you are detail-oriented — cared for, polished shoes
- Overall general style – a trendy hip creative or serious businessman
- Your personality – black is more serious, but brown worn with a gray suit shows sophistication
Grooming For The Interview
Follow these tips to make sure you are well-groomed before your job interview.
- No cologne (especially on your right hand, it rubs off when you shake hands)
- Check your breath – a breath mint 5-10 minutes before your appointment can do wonders
- Clean nails
- Never chew gum (also a great tip for after you get the job)
- Consider a hair cut if necessary. Hair longer than shoulder length for women and over the ears for men diminishes the perception of authority but increases a feeling of accessibility. So short hair for power, long hair for an image of friendliness.
- Make sure you have a nice pen and carry it in the inside jacket pocket (not the shirt pocket)
- Name tag placement. Although most people stick them on the left, name tags should go on the right as they are easier to read when you shake hands.
Job Interview Advice from A Human Resource Consultant
It seems a common misconception that if the position you’re interviewing is a “casual dress” situation that you don’t have to dress up for the interview.
“Candidates shouldn’t be fooled into believing they can get away with wearing a pair of khakis to an interview just because they’ve heard the company employs a casual dress code,” says Julia Miller, a human resource consultant in Milwaukee.
“Your interviewer will expect you to show up wearing a business suit, regardless of what she or everyone else in the office is wearing.”
Miller says while a smart suit goes a long way toward making a solid first impression, job candidates often feel the need to match their appearance up with improper accessories and inappropriate items.
“I see people in great suits with ratty backpacks slung over their shoulders or wearing shoes that have seen better days – much better days,” says Miller.
“I don’t understand why someone would go through the trouble of wearing a suit, only to blow it with something else that’s completely out of place.”
“Most recruiters won’t give a second thought to a manila folder or a simple notepad, but she says some interviews may find it odd if you bring in a dozen folders or more, loaded down with clips, references and other pieces of information.”
“You want to present an organized neat image of yourself,” Miller says. “You don’t want recruiters to see qualities that they wish to avoid at all costs with new employees. If you show up with papers fumbling out of a folder, whether it’s fair or not, you’ll leave an impression that you’re unorganized”
What To Do Before the Interview
Don’t be nervous. Just follow these tips and you’ll ace your job interview.
- Rehearse. If you are not accustomed to wearing a suit or interviewing, do mock interviews with someone or even by yourself. Dress up, enter a room, sit down, practice answering questions etc.
- Show up slightly early. Find the location (parking, etc.) the day before the interview.
- Research the company and know what’s current in that industry. You should sound like an insider.
- Do one last check. If possible, stop in a restroom for one last check of your appearance (hair, tie knot, etc.).
- Treat everyone nicely and with respect, especially the receptionists and secretaries. Often one bad word from them can ruin your chances.
During the Interview
Once you know what to wear to a job interview, it’s time to ace the conversation. These are essential things to remember to do during your interview. If you do all of them, you’ll stand out from the crowd as a strong candidate.
- Bring something to give to the interviewer: a resume, a three-ring binder presentation of your accomplishments.
- Listen actively.
- Ask questions. It’s almost a sure bet that your recruiter will ask if you have questions, so come prepared with some.
- Be aware of your body language. Beware that nodding the head too much is perceived as negative with regard to displaying power and authority.
- Give a good handshake. Aim for thumb with a firm squeeze, not a death grip.
- Say “yes” and “no” not “yeah” or “uh huh”.
What Not To Do During An Interview
These are the most common things that will hurt you during the interview process.
Don’t answer your cellphone! If you receive a cellphone call or text message during your job interview, don’t answer it. Doing so ranks as job candidates’ most common mistake in an interview, according to a survey of hiring managers. Make sure your phone is silent (or better yet switched off completely) and out of sight.
71% of managers surveyed named answering a cell phone as the top blunder, according to a report released by Career Builder. Other common mistakes: dressing inappropriately and appearing uninterested, each cited by 69% of managers, followed closely by appearing arrogant at 66%.
Rounding out the list of what not to do are:
- Speaking negatively about a current or previous employer at 63%
- Chewing gum at an interview 59%
- Not providing specific answers at 35%
- Not asking good questions at 32%
When asked the most outrageous blunders they have encountered when interviewing job candidates, the hiring managers reported hugging the hiring manager at the end of the interview and eating all the candy from the candy bowl.
But at the top of the list of no-no’s: Wearing a hat that said, “Take this job and shove it.” This is a prime example of how knowing what to wear to a job interview can make or break you.
Harris Interactive conducted the survey for Career Builder among 2,482 U.S. hiring managers between Nov. 15 and Dec. 2, 2010
Four Job Interview Basics
These are the 4 most common things to avoid at a job interview.
- Never admit that you are nervous. Of course, you will be, everyone is, but don’t tell the interviewer that you’re nervous. This is the one time that it won’t get you any sympathy or make you look more human – just weak. Try to stay calm and fake confidence.
- A big mistake is not preparing for the interview. Do research on the company and ask great questions – nothing easily found on Google.
- Never give one-word answers. Every question is your opportunity to shine and show how great you will be for this job. Give them some good stories about your previous experiences and how well you did.
- Ask Questions. They will ask, toward the end “Do you have any questions for us?”. Well, ask away! It’s another opportunity to show how great you are.
Body Language In The Interview
What is your body language saying for you? Here are some amazing body language messages and how to nail the most positive ones.
- Eye contact – Don’t stare, but look the other person (persons) in the eye 40 to 60% of the time, otherwise, you’ll be perceived as having something to hide.
- Smile, but “over smiling” gives the impression of weakness.
- Sit with your back straight, but lean slightly forward to show how interested you are in the interviewer and the company!
- Choose a chair, not a sofa. Sofas are too low and difficult to sit up straight, you look sloppy, thus putting you in a weak position.
- If possible angle the chair at a 45 angle to the interviewer. This avoids the confrontational straight across the position.
- Mirror: People are most comfortable with people who are “like” themselves (in dress, mannerisms, thoughts, etc.). Try to “mirror” the interviewer’s body position and mannerisms such as speech speed, (to a certain degree).
What to Talk About At Your Job Interview
While each interview is slightly different, there are a few things that come up in practically every interview. Be prepared to talk about your:
- strengths and weaknesses
- accomplishments and achievements
- failures and how you learned from them and made them successes
- key decisions
- interests – your likes and dislikes
Furthermore, here are some gender-specific tips.
Men tend to brag too much. Talk about your family and hobbies in an appropriate way as it will help you to appear well rounded. It’s OK to admit mistakes and don’t forget to listen!
Women don’t brag enough in interviews. Go ahead tell the interviewer how great you are, but don’t bad mouth your former boss or company. You do not want to be categorized as a whiner.
These are some good questions to be ready for (or to ask if you’re the interviewer) and what they will help the interviewer learn about you.
- When were you excited about your work? See if the person’s passions really fit the job.
- What major mistake from your past do you not regret? Can the person admit a mistake? Learn from it?
- What’s your favorite movie? Actually helps to see if the candidate can think clearly, quickly and articulate.
- What’s a misconception people have about you? Does the candidate understand their image and how to manage it?
- In 5 years how will you justify having taken this job? (a newer version of where do you want to be in 5 years). It allows the interviewee to talk about his master career plan.
For more ideas on job interview questions & answers, check out this helpful article on The Balance Careers website.
Other Methods of Interviews
Not all job interviews happen in a board room or office. Here are some other types of interviews and how to prepare for them.
Interviewing Over a Meal
This is presently a strong practice since it allows the interviewer to ascertain your manners, how you handle social situations. Therefore, do not drink alcoholic beverages, even if the interviewers are drinking.
Another method of interview, make certain you have substantial (name brand) golf attire.
Bringing Your Spouse
If they suggest you bring your spouse, it is not a suggestion. He or she must show up appropriately dressed. What’s appropriate? Refer to the information about what to wear to a job interview up above.
Often the “final” determination is made by the big, big boss. Sometimes this meeting is played down by calling the visit a “courtesy call”, but beware this is a very important showing of yourself. Wear your best and conduct yourself accordingly (often a very formal, very important few minutes).
After The Interview
Send a thank you/follow up letter to the interviewer. Restate your qualifications, and if you felt anything didn’t go well this is your opportunity to restate your strengths and the things you didn’t think of/say during the interview.
Interview Tips From a Forum Member
In a post on our Forum, these great tips were given by Dr. James Ryan, Forum Member (he’s graciously agreed to let us re-print them here):
The purpose for the initial interview is that they’re trying to gauge how you would fit into their company.
They really want to know your people skills. So, the best thing is to ‘know yourself.’ They could ask you anything, but here are a few things that are sure to come up:
Tell me about a time you demonstrated initiative.
Give me an example of your leadership ability.
Describe your most recent group effort and how you contributed to the team.
In answering these questions, be certain to describe a SPECIFIC example (don’t describe your leadership style in general, but rather recount a specific time you were in a leadership role).
After setting the context, describe your role, contribution to, or influence on that situation.
Finally, always provide a statement describing the outcome of your efforts (e.g., the grade you received, the percentage increase in sales volume due to your efforts, etc.) so they can evaluate your effectiveness.
Use the STAR Method
A common way to approach answering behavioral questions is to use the STAR method:
S = Situation: Describe what you were facing.
T = Target: Describe what you wanted to achieve.
A = Action: Describe what you did.
R = Results: Describe what happened, how things turned out, what you learned, and optionally what you’d do differently if presented the same circumstances.
It’s a bit rigid, but it will make sure you cover all the bases.
The non-verbal cues you send in the interview are important too.
Be conscious of slouching back in a chair (boredom?), twiddling your thumbs (nervousness?), and crossing your arms (hostility?).
If you are asked a particularly tough question, maintain your composure and take extra time to think before replying.
Be sure to maintain good eye contact, which conveys confidence and honesty.
It’s also very important to know what to ask the interviewer. You want to evaluate the company and the opportunities provided by this position in order to determine whether or not you are even interested.
In addition, the questions you ask convey interest and enthusiasm; if you fail to ask anything of the interviewer, they might assume you aren’t particularly interested in the job or the organization.
One of the hardest things they’ll be sure to ask you is about your weaknesses. You have to walk a tightrope with this question.
Certainly don’t talk about any major character flaws (if you have any). You need to pick something fairly trivial, and somewhat downplay it, all the while being sincere.
I could go on and on, there are entire books devoted to this stuff.
The main things to do are keep your energy up (don’t smile too much, though,) and have SPECIFIC examples in mind for the most common questions.
Thanks Dr. James Ryan!
Funny Job Interview Blunders
Want a good laugh? Read these funny things people actually said or did at job interviews.
With blunders like these, it doesn’t matter if they knew what to wear to a job interview. Enjoy a chuckle, but don’t make these mistakes.
They were taken from the files of real resumes (as reported in Fortune Magazine and on the internet):
- “Please don’t misconstrue my 14 jobs as job-hopping. I have never quit a job”
- “I have lurnt Word Perfect 6.0 computor and spreasheet progroms”
- “Received a plague for salesperson of the Year”
- “Failed bar exam with relatively high grades”
- “Am a perfectionist and rarely if if ever forget details”
What The Human Resources Department Really Means:
This is another fun list. It’s tongue-in-cheek. When you read descriptions online, here’s what they are really saying.
- “Good Communication Skills” — management communicates, you listen, figure out what they want and do it.
- “Problem Solving Skills a must” — you’re walking into a company in perpetual chaos.
- “Join our fast-paced company” — we don’t have time to train you.
- “Some overtime required” — some each night and some each weekend.
Funny WalMart Job Application
Or you can fill out your application like this, reportedly an actual job application that a 75-year-old senior citizen submitted to Wal-Mart in Arkansas.
NAME: George Martin
SEX: Not lately, but I am looking for the right woman (or at least one that will cooperate)
DESIRED POSITION: Company’s President or Vice President. But seriously, whatever’s available. If I was in a position to be picky, I wouldn’t be applying here in the first place.
DESIRED SALARY: $185,000 a year plus stock options and a Michael Ovitz style severance package. If that’s not possible, make an offer and we can haggle.
LAST POSITION HELD: Target for middle management hostility.
PREVIOUS SALARY: A lot less than I’m worth.
MOST NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENT: My incredible collection of stolen pens and post-it notes.
REASON FOR LEAVING: It sucked.
HOURS AVAILABLE TO WORK: Any
PREFERRED HOURS: 1:30-3:30 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.
DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIAL SKILLS?: Yes, but they’re better suited to a more intimate environment.
MAY WE CONTACT YOUR CURRENT EMPLOYER?: If I had one, would I be here?
DO YOU HAVE ANY PHYSICAL CONDITIONS THAT WOULD PROHIBIT YOU FROM LIFTING UP TO 50 LBS.?: Of what?
DO YOU HAVE A CAR?: I think the more appropriate question here would be “Do you have a car that runs?”
HAVE YOU RECEIVED ANY SPECIAL AWARDS OR RECOGNITION?: I may already be a winner of the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, so they tell me.
DO YOU SMOKE?: On the job – no! On my breaks – yes!
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE DOING IN FIVE YEARS?: Living in the Bahamas with a fabulously wealthy dumb sexy blonde supermodel who thinks I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread. Actually, I’d like to be doing that now.
NEAREST RELATIVE…7 miles
DO YOU CERTIFY THAT THE ABOVE IS TRUE AND COMPLETE TO THE BEST OF YOUR KNOWLEDGE?: Oh yes, absolutely.
Okay, so maybe don’t fill out an application like this. However, it did work out in George’s favor. They hired him because he was so funny!!!
What to Do After You Get the Job
And after you figure out what to wear to a job interview, and get that perfect job, here are some tips from Jeffrey J. Fox, author of “How To Become CEO”!
Don’t expect the Personnel Department to plan your career. There are no automatic steps on the corporate ladder. You must be responsible for making your own destiny.
Think for one hour every day. Spend the hour planning, dreaming, scheming, calculating and reviewing your goals. Write down ideas. Do this every day at the same scheduled time and not while you’re at work (you’ll be interrupted there).
Keep and use a special idea notebook. Write down all your ideas, plans, goals and dreams in one place.
Arrive forty-five minutes early and leave fifteen minutes late. If you are going to be first in your corporation start practicing by being first on the job. People who arrive late to work don’t like their jobs (at least that’s what management thinks).
Don’t stay at the office until ten o’clock every night. That’s a signal that you can’t keep up or that your personal life is poor. Leave fifteen minutes late instead. Use those fifteen mutes to organize your next day and clean your desk. You‘ll be leaving after 95% of all the employees anyway.
Best of Luck!
— Andy Gilchrist