How to Dress for an Interview

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Remember to dress the part!First impressions count. No matter what people say or want to believe, people will judge you based on the way you look, what you’re wearing, and how you present yourself. That’s why it’s critically important to dress properly for an interview. Interviews are hard enough to get as it is, you don’t want your chances to be hurt simply because you’re wearing the wrong clothes!

This article is part of Bargaineering Career Week 2009, a week-long series focused on your career – how to find a job, how to tailor your resume, how to find the job opportunities and how to nail the interview. This article is the second article of day four – the interview process.

Check Ahead of Time

Check the clothes you’re going to wear at least two days ahead of your interview. You might realize that the suit you want to wear needs to be dry-cleaned or the pants no longer fit properly. You don’t want to discover a stain on your tie an hour before the interview, you want to find out with enough time to react.

Wear A Suit

No one will fault you for wearing a suit to an interview, so if you have one or can borrow one, do so. If you’re ever in doubt, you should always dress on the conservative side because no one will ever fault you for it. Don’t wear anything provocative and don’t wear anything flashy, you want your abilities and your accomplishments to shine, not yourself.

Drive By’s

If you aren’t sure what you should wear and you don’t want to wear a suit unless you have to, drive by the company’s office. Take a look at what the employees are wearing and wear one step higher. If people are working in jeans and t-shirts, go business casual with a button down shirt and khakis or slacks. If people are business casual, go in a full suit or put on a tie. When it doubt, wear a suit.

Look Professional

Since I’m a guy, these “look professional” tips are going to be a little male centric but the theme is the same – look well groomed and presentable. I think that having a neat and clean hairstyle is important, whether you’re a guy or a girl, and guys should make sure you’re clean shaven. You don’t want your suit to say professional but the 5 o’clock shadow to say you’re too lazy to bring a razor to your face. Shower before your interview, clip your nails, and go easy on the perfumes, colognes, and aftershave.

Big Don’ts…

Whatever you do, don’t…

  • Chew gum – You can’t answer clearly if you have gum in your mouth.
  • Bring your cell phone – You don’t need it in the interview, so leave it in the car.
  • Drink coffee or soda beforehand – Coffee can give you bad breath, soda will make you burp.
  • Flaunt tattoos or wear excessive piercings – As I said earlier, let your accomplishments do the talking. People have preconceived notions about people with “too many” tattoos or piercings.

And good luck on that interview!

(Photo: matt512)

{ 27 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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27 Responses to “How to Dress for an Interview”

  1. No Debt Plan says:

    I just had to stop by to say that is one of the best interview photos ever. Hilarious. Great find!

  2. AmandaDRowe says:

    These are nit-picky things but for the women –

    1. If you wear a button up shirt under your suit jacket, make sure the buttons don’t pull whether you sit or stand. There is nothing worse than having your bra show.

    2. Wear shoes that are both professional and comfortable. Some interviews require quite a bit of walking and you need to be able to keep up with the guys!

  3. pcallaghan says:

    It never hurts to ask HR for appropriate dress for interviews! Its awful to show up in suit and tie to a company that nobody wears suits and have the interviewer ask why in the world did you wear a suit?

  4. Beth says:

    Great points, but be careful with the drive-bys! If you apply for a large company, some departments (like the tech team) are very casual, while others (like sales and marketing) are much more formal. It depends on what job you’re applying for.

    @ pcallaghan — I agree! I’ve heard that traditional suits are too old fashioned for some creative or tech industries. In the past, I’ve swapped a nice cardigan for the blazer to set the right tone, or worn a nice top instead of a blouse under a jacket.

  5. Beth says:

    Actually, now that I think of it, there’s no one-size-fits all job hunting advice out there anymore. You really have to know the industry and the company to which you are applying and play by their rules.

  6. Thom Fox says:

    I must disagree with your suit advice. A colleague recently went on an interview and was summarily dismissed for wearing a suit as the company was far from the corporate culture (an internet company.) The new logic is to dress one level above the current employees. This requires a little detective work, but helps to set the tone for the interview.

    • Jim says:

      I have to disagree with the company, if they’re going to dismiss someone for wearing suit because it’s “not their corporate culture” then they’re being close-minded. If you’re willing to discard someone talented simply because they dressed up, then you’re a fool. I have to assume that your colleague wasn’t a good fit or the company won’t be around for long because that’s a poor talent acquisition strategy.

      • Beth says:

        It’s a tough market out there right now, and companies are looking for a great fit. They get tons of applications from qualified candidates, so it’s not like passing over an over-dressed candidate means they’re hirer a less qualified one.

        @ Thom — just out of curiosity, was this colleague male or female? I wonder if the classic power suit is more damaging to women than men (in certain industries, of course)? We’ve got so many options for career separates that a suit can really stand out.

  7. redivelli says:

    I can agree with Beth on the one-size-fits all thing. I wore a suit to meet up with the manager of my job. He looked at me like I was nuts, sent me home to change into jeans, a polo, and boots. That’s the kind of casual I like.

    I would also throw in there the value of an undershirt. I know a lot of people who don’t wear them…..and if it’s hot and you get sweaty, gross.

    Also, it may go without saying, but please iron your clothes. I hate looking around at people in wrinkly dress clothes.

  8. Neil says:

    “No one will fault you for wearing a suit to an interview”

    This isn’t really true. It’s usually expected for interview wear to be a step up from everyday workplace wear. In a more professional job where most people are wearing business casual, then yes – a suit is the way to go. But at more blue collar organisations – even if it’s an office job you’re applying for – wearing a suit can make you look like an ass. It won’t disqualify you for a job – unlike underdressing – but it could be a big point against you.

    Drive bys are definitely a good idea. Just don’t go on a Friday.

    Business culture varies a lot from place to place. Where I live, only lawyers and major international accounting firms wear suits, so more comfortable business wear is a good bet if you’re going in blind.

    • Jim says:

      What is worse? Underdressing or overdressing?

      • Neil says:

        Underdressing is worse, but overdressing isn’t a good idea either. You’re better to actually do a bit of research and turn up looking like a person they’d want to work with.

        As I said, the business culture here is pretty casual, so unless I knew otherwise, I’d leave the suit at home and wear a button down shirt and nice pants. I’ve yet to be dressed worse than the interviewer.

        • fishboyridesagain says:

          Underdressing is worse, but overdressing does seem to have its own potential to wreck an interview. I have worked for the Forest Service. I would assume that other natural resource agencies (Federal and State) were similar to where I have interviewed. Wearing a suit to an interview, in my opinion, would show a disconnect as to the nature of the job. A tie would be enough to show respect for the interview, but a suit would give the impression that the job-seeker didn’t know who they were talking to.

          one more vote for the drive-by

  9. a says:

    I work at an Internet company. An appropriate work outfit would be to skateboard in with pajamas and purple hair. Typical outfits are sandals, ripped shorts and t-shirts (rips optional).

    A person who feels it is appropriate to wear a suit to an interview here would not be a good fit. Casual business clothes–sure. But wearing a suit indicates that the person does not have a clue about how to fit in here. HR did him/her a favor.

    • Jim says:

      So you’d dismiss them without first trying to find out the persons capabilities? Seems short-sighted.

      The real question is whether overdressing is a bigger issue, or as big of an issue, as underdressing. I think you lose more interviews underdressing than you would overdressing (and that’s why I recommended drive-bys, just to be sure).

      • a says:

        Yes, in this case, if the person did not bother to find out about the company culture, it would make me wonder about the person’s interest in the company. It’s not like this is a secret–very easy to find out that Internet companies have a specific culture. BUT–as far as I know, this ONLY holds true for this particular niche. Other computer jobs/ companies are okay with suits, even if people dress down on the job. Your advice is good overall.

  10. jsbrendog says:

    I agree on the looking neat but as someone who has a beard at my current job i do not believe that you should shave it off just for an interview. I keep mine nicely groomed and in line and have bene told not only does it look good but it looks professional as well.

    Now if they say they have a no facial hair policy then sure i will agree to shave it off immediately, but if it is nicely kept and professional I don’t see the issue

    • Jim says:

      You’re right, the point I was going for was neat and not necessary clean-shaven if you are sporting a beard or goatee or whatever. You just don’t want that 5 o’clock shadow look. 🙂

      • jsbrendog says:

        oh definitely. and since I currently have a job I sometimes get lazy and wait til the weekend to shape it up but I’ve been here long enough and owuld’ve never done that in the first 6 months or so

  11. zapeta says:

    I’d personally rather be over-dressed than under-dressed but I never thought about going to the business to see what others are wearing and then you’ll know how to dress for sure. Sounds like a winning plan to me.

  12. eric says:

    That picture had me chuckling 🙂

    I agree…overdressing is better than underdressing but the tip to check out the company beforehand is great. That way you would know for sure.

  13. CreditShout says:

    You can NEVER be overdressed, if you feel like you’re over dressed, trust me the person interviewing you probably feels even more under dressed giving you the upper hand. It may sound crazy but it’s true.

    • Soccer9040 says:

      I would typically agree, but from reading the above comments I guess overdressing is possible. I do agree with Jim that dismissing someone for it probably means they are too close minded. Or it could be an arrogant interviewer looking for anything to say about someone they didnt like. I’ve seen it before.

      • Chris says:

        I agree, while most would not consider it as a big deal there are those that will. Always know your audience.

  14. Carla says:

    I dont see how wearing a suit when the company is business casual would cost you the job. They should understand that its an interview and that you are making an effort. If they really want to know how the candidate would “fit it” (or not), there are other ways of finding out other than stereotyping just because he/she bothered make an effort.

    • saladdin says:

      My last interview I wore a tie. They made a point of saying “We don’t wear ties.” I found out later, after getting the job, that I was thought of as being too “uptight” and they were concerned I would not fit in. Because I played the professional cliche I almost was not hired.


  15. Izalot says:

    I think these are really sound suggestions. I’m in nursing and it’s definitely harder to get a job now then it was when I first started. We have had people dress like slobs that we quickly dismissed as potential candidates. Doing a drive by at a hospital wouldn’t be very helpful as wearing scrubs is the most common uniform!

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