How To Dress For A Job Interview

Just graduated?

Ready to move up the corporate ladder?  

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 time to make the very best possible impression you can make.

This is a situation that calls for a serious business outfit.  You, of course, want to be perceived as “serious” about the job, the company and the work you will be doing.

You may be applying for a “casual dress” job, but the interview is always dress up!

You will be trying to convince the  person interviewing you that with your serious, conservative clothing – you are  the type of person who will fit in at the company, will not “rock the boat”, or call unnecessary attention to yourself (a team player).

That’s the reason for conservative clothes and a reason to avoid fashion statements.  Clothing is an  expression of  your respect and consideration for the situation.

Candidates who ignore the importance of “Dressing to Impress” cannot be serious about the job in the minds  of most interviewers. Interviewers expect interviewees to look a certain way so disappointing them at first sight is the “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.

See my article (First Impressionism).

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.

Some Specifics on What To Wear

Wear a suit (it’s more serious  than a sport coat).  Best colors are Navy or Charcoal Gray Single Breasted suit.

Note: Black vs. Navy   For men  black is not usually considered appropriate for business (social, funerals –  yes). Navy is the dominate power color.  Recently this has been challenged by  female executives wearing black since black is such a powerful  color.

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.

White shirt with a straight point  collar.  Only long sleeve please.  Never wear a short sleeve shirt with a  tie.

There is a “rule” that in serious  business dress you wear a minimum of one pattern and two solids (the elements are your suit, shirt and tie).  Men look great in tuxedos which are all solids!

So the recommendation for interviewing is a solid color suit and shirt and a  patterned tie.   Loud shirts or ties will detract from one’s character and  bearing.


Best choices are solid,  stripes, or small patterns and an excellent color is burgundy or another serious  color(avoid pink or yellow).   Even pattern 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.  Reppties (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, and don’t forget the all important dimple! (the  indentation under the knot.)


Socks should match your suit  and not allow any skin to show when you cross your legs.     Trousers should be long enough to  cover your socks, and cuffs are a mark of a sophisticated  businessman.


Leather belts with quiet, small  belt buckles.



One of the most  important fashion factors, they are a strong statement  of personality and  executives (men and women!) notice shoes. Choose black, cordovan or brown  classic lace-ups, shined, and in good repair.

By looking at  shoes you can tell …

Economic status  —  “well heeled”,  expensive shoes

Detail oriented  —  cared for,  polished shoes

Styling – trendy hip creative or  serious businessmen

Color – black more serious, but  brown worn with a gray suit shows sophistication, but be sure your interviewer knows that!

Grooming For The Interview

No cologne (especially on your  right hand, it rubs off when  you shake hands)

Check breath

Clean nails

NEVER Chew gum (also a  great tip for after you get the job)

Hair longer than shoulder length  for women and over the ears for men diminishes 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 tags go on the right (easier  to read when you shake hands) although most people stick them on the left.

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”

Before the Interview

REHEARSE.  If you are not accustom  to wearing a suit or interviewing.   Drill with someone or 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. Sound like an insider.  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

Bring something to give to the  interviewer:  a resume, a three ring binder presentation of your accomplishments.

Listen!  Actively.  Ask questions  (have some ready!)    Beware that nodding the head “too much” is perceived as negative with regard to displaying  power and authority.

Hand shake  (aim for  thumb)  firm squeeze not death grip.

It’s “yes” and “no” not  “yeah”, “un-huh” nor “unt-huh”

Don’t answer your cellphone! If  you receive a cellphone call or text message during your job interview, don’tanswer it. Doing so ranks as job candidates’ most common mistake in an  interview, according to a survey of hiring managers.

71% of managers  surveyed named it 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 is speaking  negatively about a current or previous employer at 63%, chewing gum at an  interview 59%, not providing specific answers at 35% and 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.”

Harris Interactive conducted the survey for Career Builder among 2,482 U.S. hiring managers between Nov. 15 and Dec. 2, 2010

Four Basics:

  1. 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.
  2. A big mistake is not preparing for the interview.  Do research on the company and ask great questions – nothing easily found on Google.
  3. 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.
  4. Ask Questions!  They will ask, toward the end “Do you have any questions for us?”  Ask!  It’s another opportunity to show how great you are!

Body Language In The Interview

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  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).

Be Ready To Talk About Your:

  • strengths and weaknesses
  • accomplishments and  achievements
  • failures and how you learned from them and made them successes
  • key decisions
  • interests, likes and  dislikes
  • Men tend to brag too much.  Talk  about your family and hobbies (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!

interview questionsSome good questions to be ready for (or to ask if you’re the interviewer):

When were you excited about your work?

See if the person’s passions really fit the  job.

What major mistake from you 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).

Allows the  interviewee to talk about his master career plan.

Added  Dimensions:

SCREENING STAGE:   You may be  asked to meet with one or two people in succession or in a group.

DINNER , Breakfast or Lunch:  This is presently a strong practice since it allows the interviewer to ascertain your manners, how you handle social situations.  Do not drink alcoholic beverages, even if the interviewers are drinking.

GOLF:  Another method of  interview, make certain you have substantial (name brand) golf attire.

SPOUSE:  If they suggest you bring  your wife, it is not a suggestion.  She must show up appropriately  dressed.

FINAL INTERVIEW:  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.

In a recent post in the 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. The best thing is to ‘know yourself.’ They could ask you anything, but here are a few things that are sure to come up:

  1. Tell me about a time you demonstrated initiative.
  2. Give me an example of your leadership ability.
  3. 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.

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!


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 Dept Really Means:

“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.

Keep Your Sense Of Humor!

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.



PREFERRED HOURS: 1:30-3:30 p.m. ! ; 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 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.



They hired him because he was so funny!!!



And after you get that perfect job, here are some tips from Jeffrey J. Fox, author of “How To Become CEO”!

Don’texpect 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 everyday.  Spend the hour planning, dreaming, scheming, calculating and reviewing your goals.  Write down ideas.  Do this everyday 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 (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