What Should You Wear to a Job Interview? HR Experts Weigh In
You only get one shot at a first impression. Make the right one in your next job interview (and guarantee that second interview) by dressing the part with these expert tips from seasoned business professionals and human resource pros. So make sure you practice that firm handshake, iron out that pantsuit and don’t forget to take notes, as we take you through 15 ways to ensure you dress for success at your next job interview.
A good rule of thumb...Reddit user @Hrgooglefu, a senior professional in human resources, says: “My rule of thumb was always [to dress] (at least) one level higher of what you would be expected to wear on the job. And know your audience…”
The key takeaway here is to “know your audience” – every industry has its own particular work environment, and with that comes specific expectations for dressing the part. Familiarize yourself with the company and those who work within it. Often, emulating the style of your prospective colleagues will work to both secure a great first impression, and supply your interviewer with a helpful visual as far as envisioning how well you might fit in with the organization.
Scale backSays career advisor Peter Csucska, replying to a thread on Quora, less is more when it comes to dressing for an interview. For women, he advises going with a “business suit (pant or skirt)” for a professional look. More importantly than what you wear, says Csucska, is what you should make sure to avoid. On the list: “No miniskirts, no deep cleavage, no extravagant colours or patters. Moderate makeup. Very little jewellery.”
This isn’t to say you should mute your personality altogether, but letting your interviewer get a feel for who you are – without being distracted by your outfit – is a better approach to standing out from your competition (in the right way) and avoiding giving off any red flags to your interviewer.
Ditch the open-toed shoesHuman resource professional since 2012, Quora user Rita Igue advises “formal/business attire” for a job interview, suggesting “skirt suit/pant suit, blouse…formal dress” and “great closed shoes.”
No argument here: open-toed shoes instantly look more casual than closed-toe shoes, so opt for the more professional style, just to be sure.
There's casual, and then there's business-casual...Says Reddit user and recruiter @SnowDropAngel: “Business casual for anything is a good rule of thumb.”
So what exactly qualifies as business casual? For women, this typically means something along the lines of dress-pants and a button-down shirt or blouse. You really can’t go wrong interviewing for any position wearing tailored pants and a crisp white shirt.
Plus, brush up on your interview etiquette with our must-read list of what NOT to do on the day!
Keep it professionalRecruitment specialist and Reddit user @FrozenKlondyke says, “What I recommend for entry-level professional positions would be business casual, but professional… a blazer with a professional blouse with slacks is a good look.”
Still not sure what to wear? @FrozenKlondyke suggests this guide to help you navigate, but adds, “It’s really going to depend on the environment – if you’ve researched it and it seems professional, dress well. If it’s a startup or a tech-based company, you can generally be a bit more lax.”
Be polished, but above all, be confidantQuora user and talent scout Denis Dinkevich advises you to be yourself, above all else: “…the main point is that if you're looking fresh, smiling bright and just being yourself…you'll get on it with ease.” Adding, “I mean obviously that you shouldn't be wearing wrinkled and dirty clothes and so on…”
You only get one shot at a first impression, so make it a good one by showing up polished and neat. That being said, nothing looks better than confidence and a smile.
Wondering how you did? Here are some ways to tell if your interview went well…
When in doubt, overdressMBA, CPRW and Former Fortune 50 executive Scot Hulshizer says on Quora, “It’s always best to dress at the appropriate level, but if you don’t know what that is, it is always, always, always better to be overdressed. It shows that you care and you are taking the opportunity seriously.”
Dressing up versus dressing down may not always translate to an appropriate style of dress for the role, but there’s no denying it reflects better on your sense of professionalism than to undershoot and show up looking like you couldn’t be bothered to try. Adds Hulshizer, “…you should not wear any type of fragrance (cologne or perfume). It’s always stronger than the wearer believes, and can actually cause interviewers to suffer allergic reactions.”
Don't overthink itHR manager Paul Salkind tells Quora users to opt for “a jacket… with nice pants.”
Sometimes, it’s just that simple. Put your focus on being prepared for the questions you might be asked, and spend your time researching the company. Sure, it’s important to look the part, but that won’t take you much further than the handshake (and don’t forget to do these 10 things before the interview!). Dress neatly, professionally and in clothing that won’t leave you feeling restricted or awkward throughout the interview.
Sometimes jeans are okay...Though a fan of traditional-formal interview dressing, former recruiter and Quora user Erin Fife says it all depends on your industry. For example, for engineers Erin suggests “whatever you’re most comfortable in – jeans and a t-shirt are fine. I might prefer a button down shirt but I’m old fashioned.” For the sales field, says Erin, “khakis and said button shirt.” In other industries, she advises going with “something more traditional formal, like a suit.” But, adds Fife, “Knowing the audience… is key.”
Not every industry calls for formal-dress, but if you’re planning on showing up jeans-and-t-shirt-casual, make absolutely sure that this is acceptable to your audience. Reach out to an HR expert or someone with insight into the industry for the green light before blowing your interview over a lack of research.
Dress thoughtfullyBusiness owner of nearly 30 years, Sid Kato advises Quora users to send the right message with your interview outfit. Overdressing, says Kato, “shows someone is thoughtful and wants to make a good impression.”
Even if a suit is not the standard at the company you’re applying to, there’s no harm in dressing up for the initial interview. While you may decide to dial it back for any follow-ups, your interviewer is guaranteed to appreciate that you opted to put in more effort, versus less, on your first meeting.
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Don't stand out for the wrong reasonsSays CEO Alex Lieberman via a Quora thread, from his experience in conducting hundreds of interviews over the past 5 years, “poor stage presence” can be an interview-killer. Says Lieberman, “Don’t stand out with your outfit (don’t be disheveled, but also don’t wear a $25,000 watch.)”
While you absolutely want to stand out from the crowd and leave a lasting impression, it shouldn’t be for reasons that have to do with your flashy style of dressing.
Avoid "loud" coloursSenior recruiter and Quora user Ben Karter suggests you “avoid loud colors” for your interview. At the same time, steer clear of head-to-toe black ensembles. Black blouses and shirts are one of the most agreed upon no-nos between HR professionals when it comes to interview-attire. Find a happy medium on the colour spectrum by sticking to muted tones, pastels or neutral hues.
Remember: it’s your personality that should leave the lasting impression – so save those bold and flashy pieces for your off-duty wardrobe and dress for success on the big day.
Skirts and dresses work - just be mindful of hemlinesWorkplace fashion has come a long way, and it’s become more common than ever for women to opt for skirts and dresses in place of stuffy trousers for work-wear. Certified employment interview consultant Lorraine Beaman took to a Quora thread to suggest “business suits with skirts that come just below the knee” for interview outfits. As far as skirts versus dresses, Beaman adds, “Not sure why we think dresses are less professional, but did a day of interviewing this week and women in suits made a more positive first impression than those wearing dresses.”
If coordinated suit styles are not your thing, but you’d still like to work the style, look for pieces in neutral hues or easy-to-match dark shades. Having skirts, blouses and blazers that are interchangeable with other pieces will add some versatility to your work wardrobe – not to mention getting you more use out of each piece!
Feeling clueless? Just ask!Outside of formal business environments, there are countless industries that embrace workplace cultures that are much more casual than you’d think. For a position in a tech-startup environment, for example, odds are you’d be out of place in a skirt-suit, but fit right in with jeans and a tee. If you’re feeling clueless about the dress-code expectation of the company you’re interviewing for – just ask!
Says Uber recruiter Scott Purcell, “My general advice is a nice pair of pants (jeans or slacks) and a nice button down and you're good to go.” As far as companies where the dress code may be a bit of mystery, Purcell says, “Again, if there's anybody you can ask from the company or an outside recruiter, definitely ask and then you'll have all your bases covered.”