What to Wear to a Job Interview – The Complete Guide for 2020
Did you know that it takes only seven seconds to make a first impression at a job interview?
The recruiter will size you up before you open your mouth, shake their hand or show them your professional resume. Your appearance has a lot to do with this. What to wear to a job interview depends on the position that you’re interviewing for, the office dress code and the company culture. Doing a little research beforehand can help you start off on the right foot.
6 Reasons Why What You Wear to Your Job Interview Matters
What to wear to a job interview weighs heavily on people’s minds. You only have one chance to wow your interviewer. If you make a poor first impression, you might lose your chance even if you have stellar qualifications or hired professional resume writers.
- Many people believe that the standard interview attire is a suit. However, a business suit isn’t always the best option. In some settings, dressing too formally can hurt your chances of getting hired.
Dress standards in the workplace are becoming more relaxed. But that doesn’t mean that you should dress sloppily. If you avoid paying attention to detail, you might get nixed from the applicant pool right away.
- In some companies, the human resources department arranges more interviews than they need to. Therefore, they need a quick way to weed out the applicant pool. If the hiring manager has more applicants than they need, they might look at your attire as a simple way to cross you off the list.
- Even if there are only a few interview candidates, you want to stand out as one of the best. Because humans are visual individuals, they make immediate judgments based on what they see. This serves us well in survival situations. Although we no longer need to be vigilant about a rustle in the grass indicating that danger lurks around the corner, we still use visual cues to make decisions.
- When you show up for an interview looking sharp, the interviewer’s expectation will be that you are on top of your game. The way you conduct yourself throughout the interview will emphasize or disprove that judgment.
- If you don’t dress the part, then you’re setting yourself up to have to prove yourself even more fervently. The interviewer may think that you probably won’t fit into the office culture, and you’ll have to work harder to show them that you’re an ideal candidate.
It’s easier to bolster an existing opinion than to change someone’s mind. Therefore, a flattering first impression can set you up for interview success.
- Finally, dressing the part can give you the confidence that you need to perform your best. In a study conducted by Northwestern University, researchers found that people tend to take on the roles that are represented by the clothing that they wear. People who were told that the white coat that they were wearing was a doctor’s coat performed better on scientific testing than those who were told that their white coat was an artist’s smock.
The clothing that you wear influences your perception of yourself. For that reason, you should wear appropriate attire that makes you feel as though you’re a shoe-in for the position.
When Should You Wear Formal Business Attire to Your Interview?
How do you know if you’re expected to wear formal, professional business attire during an interview? One way is to research the corporate culture ahead of time. The company culture involves the work environment, mission, expectations and values. It also sheds light on the clothing that you should wear.
If you’re interviewing at a large corporation, you can probably dig up a great deal of information about the company culture online. Read reviews from employees who have worked at that location. Check out the company’s social media profiles, scoping out photos from business meetings and work parties to see what employees are wearing.
You can also ask somebody who works at the company. Do you have an inside source or a friend of a friend who knows a current or former employee? Ask them about the dress code.
If that’s not possible, you can ask the person who arranged the interview for you. Consider replying to an email or text by thanking them for the interview, telling them how excited you are and asking for a recommendation on interview attire.
In many cases, though, you can use common sense. Don’t ask a mechanic what to wear to a job interview. You should assume that you won’t be walking in wearing a suit and tie. On the other hand, if you’re applying for a job at a bank, don’t wear your favorite jeans. You’ll need to step up your appearance for positions at many traditional corporations.
Once you have an idea of what employees wear to work, you should aim to dress one step above that. For example, if most people wear khakis and button-down shirts to work, you should arrive in trousers and a collared shirt with a tie. If everyone wears blazers, you should put on your best suit.
Don’t forget about the fine points. You won’t have many chances to demonstrate your attention to detail besides giving examples while answering the job interview questions. If you hired professional resume writers, your clothing should match the detail in your resume.
Therefore, use your appearance to portray your interest in specifics. Don’t wear scuffed shoes. Make sure that the hems of your pants aren’t frayed. Have your clothing professionally washed and ironed. Cut stray threads.
Dressing for Formal Interviews
Strict business dress is probably the most formal category for a job interview if you’re seeking an executive or vice president position. It requires you to make conservative choices and execute the details meticulously. You don’t have a lot of room for personal expression when you’re in strict business dress.
Here are some details that you need to consider when you’re dressing conservatively and wearing formal business attire:
- Worsted wool – Wear a worsted wool suit.
- Pick your colors wisely – Your suit should not have any patterns. Wear navy or dark gray.
- Jacket style – Choose a single-breasted suit jacket.
- Shirt style – Select a crisp, white shirt with no buttons on the collar.
- Wear a pocket square – Place a meticulously folded white pocket square in your breast pocket.
- Choose the right tie – Wear a conservative tie in a dark color. It can have a subtle pattern.
- Wear a belt – Choose a plain leather belt to hold your pants up.
- Socks – Your socks should be roughly the same color as your slacks.
- Shoes – Wear oxfords, and don’t forget to shine them.
Your suit and shirt should be tailored. If you can’t purchase a custom suit, take it to a tailor before the job interview. When your suit fits you well, you’ll feel more confident.
Your shirt should be pressed and tucked in. Use collar stays or starch to ensure that the points of the collar remain in place.
Don’t go for flashy accessories. Your necktie shouldn’t be too bright. The buckle on your belt should be small and subdued. The tip of the tie should touch the waist of your trousers. If you’re wearing a watch, the metal should match the color of your belt buckle. Your shoes and belt should be black.
Women should follow similar guidelines. They can wear a worsted wool suit with slacks or a skirt. Their blouse or button-down shirt should be traditional and professional. If women choose a skirt, they should wear nude pantyhose. Their shoes should be leather and have conservative heels.
Jewelry, perfume and makeup should be subtle. A conservative necklace in sterling silver or gold would be appropriate. They could also wear a nice watch and small earrings.
Strict business attire is reserved for high-level positions, such as lawyers, bankers, executives and politicians. If you’re playing in a culture where the stakes are high, you should take the time to present yourself as well as possible.
Classic Business Attire for Job Interviews
You can get away with wearing classic, but not strict, business attire for most job interviews in the corporate world. This attire gives you more room to express yourself. However, it’s not an excuse to look sloppy or drift away from the details. You can add some of your tasteful personal style to the look.
Even if most employees don’t wear a suit every day, they may wear one for presentations and meetings. If that’s the case, you can wear a business suit for your interview.
The following elements are crucial for dressing in business attire for an interview:
- The suit – You can steer away from worsted wool for the suit material. However, the fabric should still be matte and smooth. Choose dark colors and no patterns. You might be able to get away with wearing fine, subtle pinstripes, though.
- No bold patterns on your shirt – Your shirt should be plain white or light blue. You can get away with an understated pattern if your suit is solid. Choose a shirt that doesn’t have a button-down collar.
- Wear black shoes – You should wear black oxfords with business attire. Women can wear black leather flats or low heels.
- Necktie – You can get away with a little more color when wearing basic business attire. Still, your necktie shouldn’t be flamboyant, reflective or shiny.
- Accessories – Choose a light-colored pocket square that matches your tie. When in doubt, wear a white one. Your belt should be black with a small buckle.
You probably won’t look or feel overdressed if you wear basic business attire to any interview. The best positions to wear this style for include some law firms and banks, managerial positions, administrative jobs, consulting positions, high-skill white-collar jobs, academic positions and public relations jobs.
If you’re up against many other applicants, you’ll stand out when you’re meticulously dressed.
Business Casual – The New Standard? (It depends.)
Times have changed and many companies relaxed their dress codes. If you’re interviewing at a startup or tech-sector job, you might fit in better with a business casual style. Some businesses in Silicon Valley might think that you’re trying too hard if you dress formally.
Even though you’re ambitious, you don’t want to come across as overly aggressive. In those cases, a business casual interview outfit might be perfect. This is not an excuse to dress sloppily. Jeans are rarely acceptable for a job interview. Even if they are, wearing them might give you the wrong vibe.
Here’s what you can wear for a business casual job interview:
- Crisply-pressed trousers – Wool or cotton slacks are perfect for a business casual job interview. Go for gray, navy or brown instead of khaki, which can be too informal. The pants should be minimally textured.
- Jacket – A wool sports coat or blazer is perfectly acceptable for this type of interview. Navy blue is always appropriate. Choose a solid color jacket without a lot of texture.
- Button-down shirt – A professional shirt with a button-down collar is fine for a business casual interview. It should be pressed and starched. You can choose white or a light color. Stay away from vibrant hues or prints.
- Shoes and socks – Dress shoes should be brown or black. They can have some decorative elements, but they shouldn’t be too showy. The socks should match the color of the trousers.
- Necktie – It’s a good idea to wear a necktie in a business casual environment. Choose one with a delicate patte
rn in a color that goes with your jacket, shirt and pants.
- Accessories – You should wear a solid leather belt that matches your shoes. Although you don’t have to wear a pocket square, you can choose one with a color that complements your tie.
When Can You Wear Jeans for a Job Interview?
Some companies are so casual that even the CEO wears jeans. But that doesn’t mean that you should wear denim to make your first impression. If you’re in a business-facing or consumer-facing position, you should probably avoid wearing jeans. You can still wear a casual style of dress without donning denim.
When interviewing for technical positions that aren’t client-facing, you might be able to get away with wearing jeans. However, you might still leave a better impression if you wear khakis or slacks instead.
If you’re certain that it’s acceptable to wear jeans to your job interview, keep these rules in mind:
- Your jeans should be tailored and sleek. Baggy jeans are never appropriate for a job interview.
- Dark denim is more professional than light denim.
- Your jeans shouldn’t be too tight; don’t wear the same denim that you’d sport to a nightclub.
- The hems of your jeans should hit at the right spot without dragging on the ground.
- Your pants shouldn’t be frayed or torn.
To dress up a pair of jeans for a job interview, wear them with nice shoes and a belt. Women can wear heels or flats. Avoid wearing socks if you do this.
Avoid looking too casual by pairing jeans with a professional top. Some options include:
- A button-down shirt
- A blouse in a formal fabric
- A polo shirt
- A button-down or polo shirt under a fitted sweater
- A twinset for women
- A refined shirt and blazer
Women can wear wide-leg jeans or trouser-style denim. Men should stick to straight-legged jeans.
The types of companies that might accept jeans as part of the interview dress code include:
- Those where personal expression is important, such as a position in fashion, the creative arts or music
- Outdoor jobs
- Positions in childcare, where you need to show that you can get on the floor with the kids if necessary
What Should Women Wear to a Job Interview?
It seems as though men have an easier time deciding what to wear to an interview. In general, they have fewer options and more standardized choices. Lots of men’s business wear looks the same. Women have so many choices that they might have a difficult time deciphering what’s appropriate for each level of attire.
Business Suits for Women
If you’re purchasing a new suit for the interview, keep the following points in mind:
- Choose a jacket with two or three buttons.
- Pair it with a slim skirt that hits just below the knee.
- Choose navy or dark gray unless you’re applying for a high-profile law or finance position, in which case it’s fine to wear black.
- Wear a crisp, white shirt or a silk blouse under the jacket.
- Select closed-toe shoes with a 2 to 4-inch heel.
Should women wear skirt suits or pantsuits? According to conservative culture, women should wear skirts in a strict business environment. However, studies show that women who wear masculine clothing are more likely to get the job. They’re also perceived as more aggressive and forceful. If those qualities are required for the position, you might be more apt to wear a pantsuit.
If your interview will be held over dinner or drinks, you can wear a simple sheath dress with a jacket over it. Don’t wear a sleeveless dress without covering your shoulders and upper arms.
Tailored Separates for Women
Tailored separates can be dressed up or down for a job interview. You could wear a blazer that doesn’t match your skirt or slacks for a basic business or business casual look. In a more informal setting, a classic cardigan looks nice with a professional blouse.
Experiment with various materials when choosing a shirt or blouse. Cashmere and silk are great for job interviews.
While you can play around with color, try to stick to light or muted hues. Some patterns are fine for casual interviews, but don’t wear anything that’s too loud unless your job requires you to show off your creative individuality. Even in those cases, solid colors in well-fitting shapes can make more of an impact than prints.
A khaki blazer can be particularly versatile for the interview process. You can pair it with navy slacks or dark denim, depending on the company culture.
Black slacks are a must for your business wardrobe. You can often walk the line between business casual and basic business style by choosing your top wisely. A cardigan and matching camisole would be perfect for a casual interview. A silk blouse with a bow would be a better option for a more formal appointment.
Women’s Accessories for Job Interviews
When accessorizing for a job interview, keep things modest. You can wear conservative jewelry that’s made of high-end materials. Avoid costume jewelry, natural gemstones and items that might appear too funky. Long earrings or large hoops are not ideal. Avoiding jewelry altogether is better than wearing flashy or cheap accessories.
If you’re wearing a skirt, opt for pantyhose to cover your bare legs. Nude colored pantyhose is a popular option that works well with every business outfit. If you’re wearing black, you can choose sheer black hose and black shoes. Stay away from patterned or textured tights, which are trendy but might be too informal for the interview.
What Not to Wear for a Job Interview
Now that you know what to wear to an interview, you should know what’s not appropriate. These lines can be blurry and depend on the company culture. Still, there are a few hard-and-fast rules.
For example, you should never wear a white suit to a job interview. Unless it’s part of a costume and you’re applying for a theatrical position, a white suit will give the wrong impression every time.
You should also avoid wearing anything that’s too sexy. This goes for women and men. Button your shirts, and make sure that your hemlines aren’t too short. Clothing should be tailored but not too tight.
Don’t wear boots to an interview. Even if you’re in a casual environment, some men’s work boots can come across as too sloppy. Some women’s boots might be considered to be too sexy.
Speaking of shoes, stay away from sneakers, flip-flops, stilettos or platform shoes. Dress shoes are best for formal interviews, while leather loafers work well for casual environments.
Casual coats are not appropriate for job interviews. If you’ll be commuting to the location on foot or public transportation, find a professional coat, such as a wool trench. Otherwise, leave your ski parka in the car.
Never wear a sweatshirt or hoodie to a job interview. This style comes across as sloppy in almost every atmosphere. (Sorry, Bill Belichick.)
Even though you might have hired a resume writing service, researched every aspect of the company and practiced your job interview questions, you haven’t clinched the position until you’ve accepted the offer.
Your potential immersion into the company culture begins with your first in-person impression. Dress the part if you want to get the job.