ou’ve landed an interview for the job you want, but what do you wear? Sometimes deciding on what to wear can be more nerve-wracking than actually going through the interview-- after all, you’re literally presenting yourself for someone else’s approval. You want to appear competent, put together, and like you belong.
We hear you, and here’s our guide to help you calm your nerves and decide on an interview outfit that sends all the right signals.
Know before you go!
You’re going to have to do some homework on the business and company with whom you’re applying, so dig around for some profiles while you’re at it. Just like you need to know who’s who at the interview, you need to know what to wear. What’s the company culture like? What is the dress code?
You can always ask the person who is setting up the interview or someone in the HR department. It can seriously be that simple. And honestly, that’s usually the best way to go.
But what if you don’t have that option?
Check out the company’s reputation, business, and culture. Creep on their website, social media, and on Glassdoor and LinkedIn. Social media pictures-- even if they are of special events-- can tell you a lot about expectations. Reviews about the company can include dress code information, and can clue you in on behaviors to exhibit during the interview.
The business of the company also clues you into how to dress. Places like financial institutions, legal offices, education or anything corporate, you’ll need to dress formally and classically. A really good-looking, clean, wrinkle-free suit is a must here.
Places like start-ups often have a more relaxed dress code-- think business casual for the interview-- and PR or creative businesses like fashion and interior design often mix classic with modern or artsy.
Let’s take a few moments to decode the dress codes that are possible.
Decoding the dress code
How to Dress "Business Casual" for Work
Business casual is fairly typical for most industries, and is a fairly safe bet for interviews that don’t have a tradition of dressing up for work. Where most people trip up is the “casual” bit-- “casual” runs the risk of tripping over its feet and landing into “sloppy.” So really take the time to try on your clothes and DO NOT wear anything with rips, shreds, fraying or anything that’s baggy or skin-tight (we’ll address leggings in a moment) or dips below the collarbone. Jeans are acceptable, but only if they fit well (not tight) and are paired with dressier pieces like collared shirts or blazers. Save the leggings for Casual Friday and make sure you pair them with tunic-length tops that cover your tush and drop at last a few inches past your crotch.
The idea behind “business casual” is that you take one or two casual pieces of clothing that fit well and are in excellent shape and pair them with more formal items to pull together a look that says “I know my business” just as much as it says “I do my business with style and I respect myself.” Dressing for an interview-- and indeed, a job-- is a presentation. So make it a nice one, even if it’s casual.
How to Dress Formal for Work
Formal dress codes depend on classic pieces that demand respect because they shout “I dress up for work because I live my work.” Like we said earlier, you need a really good, wrinkle-free suit in top condition. Eventually-- when you land the job-- you’ll need a few of these to mix and match. Keep them neutral in color and tone-- grey, black, tan, navy, white, brown, and olive-- and add a few pops of classic colors for personality with the shirt and shoes. Keep jewelry to a minimum-- guys, don’t neglect the tie, tie pin and cufflinks. If you don’t have a suit-- or can’t abide one-- try building something monochromatic that is suit-like in feel.
For example, pair navy pants and a jacket with dark blue or a blue-toned grey shirt. Keep your accessories-- shoes, socks, tie, scarf, whatever-- in the same color family. If you’re wearing a skirt, you need to wear tights or pantyhose. Or you could pop a collared shirt underneath a classic similarly-colored sweater, add a tie or short scarf around the neck, pair it with a classic pant in black or grey and dressy shoes. That would be about as casual as formal business wear can go.
How to Dress Professional for Creative Jobs
What about more creative jobs? Jobs in the areas of fashion, art galleries, and sometimes public relations or as an assistant to someone in an artsy career all demand that you look not just professional-- you also need to look stylish and modern. The good thing is that creative jobs often have websites that are highly visual, so choosing something appropriate for the job you want is a bit easier. Think about pairing really classic pieces with unique finds-- again, remember to not show too much skin or wearing anything supertight. Think about fit, texture, and color-- the clothes should fit well, and add interest with texture and pops of color.
For women, this could look like classic black pants paired with a quirky-patterned secretary blouse, blazer in a corresponding color, and a pair of snazzy earrings and flats. For guys, this could look like dark brown corduroy pants, loafers, a collared shirt popped underneath a sweater vest, cufflinks and classic wristwatch.
The key to any job interview is to present yourself well, while wearing clothes are appropriate for the interview position and that don’t distract from the interview itself.
Grooming, including hair & make-up & scent
The final step to putting yourself together for your job interview is to check the details. In terms of appearance, this means your hair, make-up, scent, and so forth.
Is your hair freshly cut, or do you need a trim? Is your hairstyle job-appropriate for where you’re interviewing? For example, you probably want to dye your hair a natural color if you’re currently sporting purple locks and you’re interviewing at a financial institution. Or if you’ve got some roots showing, cover them up or re-dye them. But don’t worry so much about going grey-- it rather denotes a sense of elegance.
You do need to concern yourself with styling your hair, if you have any. Even if you’re normally a wash-n-wear hairstyle kind of person-- or a buzz cut-- put some extra effort in today. Make sure that you keep it simple and classic.
Hey guys-- have you shaved recently, or will you shave the morning of? If you choose to shave the morning of the interview, allow some extra time to slow down and avoid nicks and cuts. Make sure that you have a styptic pencil on hand and maybe some concealer to disinfect, close up and cover up any issues you may have with a shaky hand.
Ladies, shaving your legs is not up for debate here if you’re wearing a skirt, dress, or cropped pant. If your legs are showing, you need to shave-- or at least wear pantyhose, tights, or trouser socks. Yes, trouser socks-- nothing with characters, words, sassy sayings, or anything that draws attention.
Everyone needs to at least consider shaving their armpits. Make sure that you’re wearing really good deodorant. Whether you can smell your body odor not, other people can. Take care of it. (No Axe or anything scented-- stick to unscented!)
If you’re not a make-up wearer, that’s fine. Just make sure that you don’t have dark circles under your eyes or blemishes that need to be covered up-- they make it look like you don’t care about your appearance or your health. If you really hate make-up and don’t want to buy any, consider booking a mini appointment at Sephora or walking into Ulta and having a quick touch-up done before your job interview. Make-up should be kept neutral and a shade more than natural, unless you’re going for a more fashion-forward job interview. Then consider incorporating a tiny nod to a trend or wearing a bold lip.
As for scent, it doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl-- either skip it entirely, or wear just ONE, TINY DAB. If you’re spritzing, try spraying the air ONCE in front of you and walking through it or wafting it towards you. Alternatively, spray a handkerchief or tissue with ONE spray and tuck it in a pocket. If anyone can smell where you’ve walked or smell you when you enter or leave a room, you’re wearing too much. Especially in a work environment, fragrance should be just a hint of a scent when you are in close proximity to a person-- never a lasting impression.
Lastly, make sure you freshen your breath and brush your teeth. Food in your teeth or stinky breath will ruin your interview. If you can’t brush your teeth, at least use a Colgate Wisp or some breath mints and check your smile in the restroom mirror.
The only lasting impression should be how hirable you are… not your make-up, hair, or smell.
If you’re still not sure what to wear, err on the side of overdressing-- a formal impression is better than a sloppy one-- but add some touches that are distinctly you through accessories and strategic placement of color.
Ultimately, the image you want to present-- no matter what the dress code, or lack of one-- is one of you as a polished, professional person who already looks as if they work with the company.
Good luck, and go get ‘em!
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