How to Dress for a Job Interview
The job interview: Just the thought of it tends to strike terror in the hearts of anyone hoping to build a career.
For good reason, interviewees tend to feel like they’re being observed through a microscope, as the manager searches for the slightest indication that the person sitting on the other side of the desk may possess some undesirable flaw. It can be a nerve-wracking experience for job hunters, which is why it’s essential that they maximize their chances for success by preparing themselves as thoroughly as possible.
A big part of this preparation involves deciding what to wear to an interview.
Unfortunately, this is never just a simple, clear-cut matter. Thanks to the varied kinds of work environments and accompanying dress codes that you can encounter out there, knowing how to project a positive image through your interview attire can be tricky. For instance, a job hunter interviewing for a spot on a construction site will likely dress differently than someone going in for a corporate middle management position.
So, bearing all the above in mind, how should you dress for that big job interview? While there is literally no one-size-fits-all solution, there are some useful guidelines that you should observe.
As we will see, your style of dress for the interview will depend to a large extent on the type of work environment you plan to blend in with. Familiarizing yourself with the work uniform at the business you wish to work for is a good place to start. If there aren’t any uniforms, taking note of whether employees wear business formal vs. business casual clothes, or perhaps overalls, can point you in the right direction.
Even if you have no idea how to dress for an interview, and no information to base your decision on, there are a few preparatory steps that everyone should follow, no matter what kind of job they’re seeking.
- Be sure to hit the shower (or the bathtub) on the morning of the interview.
- Avoid strong perfumes or colognes—you won’t impress anyone with strong fragrances, and some people experience allergic reactions to them.
- Be sure to brush your teeth before the interview.
- Avoid smoking or eating immediately before meeting the interviewer.
- Loudly chewing on gum during the interview is another mistake made by far too many job hunters.
As for the clothing to wear, it’s important to note that it’s not always obvious exactly what kind of outfit is more appropriate. For example, a startup with an “artsy” slant may be receptive to relatively casual dress, or it may insist on standard professional attire. If you’re uncertain, the best strategy is to err on the side of formality.
Being “overdressed” is a safer bet than risking offense by presenting an excessively informal look.
Additionally, you should bear in mind that the clothing worn by the company’s employees isn’t always appropriate to wear for an interview. Some job seekers make the mistake of scouting a company’s offices on “casual Friday” and conclude that the parade of t-shirts and jeans walking through the hallways is indicative of normal business attire enforced at the site. To reiterate: If you’re not sure, be conservative.
Traditionally, the business world has required personnel to wear formal suits as a condition of employment. This is commonly known as “business formal” attire. Once, this was standard dress in the white-collar world, but over the years this requirement has been gradually relaxed.
Only a small minority of workplaces enforce a business formal dress code these days. Even so, certain types of businesses still frequently require this kind of attire—it’s common in the financial sector, to name one example. Given that we have already established the wisdom of erring on the side of formality in job interviews, it’s useful to have a firm grasp of what this dress requirement entails.
Men: The heart of the business formal style is the suit—not just any suit, but one that fits your body shape well and which allows comfortable freedom of movement. This should be a solid color, preferably dark gray or navy. Wear a long-sleeved dress shirt underneath that matches the suit (and remember that white goes well with anything).
You will also need a belt and tie—again, stay conservative with these items, as bizarre colors or patterns will interfere with the overall effect you seek. Socks should be a dark color; white cotton is a definite no-no. Be sure to wear leather shoes. Finally, avoid excessive jewelry, keep your hair neat, and make sure your fingernails are trimmed.
Women: In general, women’s business formal wear follows the same principles as the men’s: solid (not bright) colors and conservative choices. The blouse should be coordinated with the colors of the suit. Also, the suit should include a skirt that extends to the knee or the calf—keep in mind that long, ankle-length skirts are to be avoided as much as short ones.
Alternatively, a well-tailored pair of dress pants is also a reliable option. Keep your hair tastefully styled. Jewelry is acceptable, but only in small amounts; dangling earrings and similarly elaborate items should be left at home. For footwear, basic pumps work best. Avoid gaudy colors—and don’t forget that this rule includes your fingernails.
To a large extent, so-called business casual attire has replaced the older and more conservative standard of dress. For the majority of workplaces, this look is perfectly acceptable for day-to-day attire. As the name implies, business casual is closer to normal out-and-about clothing than business formal, but it’s important not to get too informal with one’s garment choices. It may be useful to think of this look as emphasizing “business” more than “casual.”
There is no precise definition for business casual attire, and it’s possible that a supervisor that mandates this standard will have a different look in mind than the job seeker does. As always, try to lean toward formality if you’re uncertain about what to wear. Even if you’re sure that the work environment allows “street” clothing, the best strategy for the interview is to be relatively formal in your attire.
Men: It’s fine to go with lighter colors than is allowable with the business formal style, although it’s still a good idea to avoid the flashy or garish. Button-down shirts are probably best, but polo shirts will likely be permissible as well. Khaki or gabardine pants tend to work well with the business casual look. Shoes may be relatively informal, such as loafers. Again, don’t get too carried away with the “casual” part of the equation—this means avoid t-shirts, excessive jewelry, shorts, flip-flops, and other items you’d wear on the weekend.
Women: Polo shirts, knit sweaters, and cardigans are permissible with business casual attire. Either pants or knee-length skirts are acceptable. Again, the key is not to get too casual, so avoid wearing eye-blinding colors, donning immoderate amounts of jewelry, and exposing the stomach, thighs, or cleavage. Hair and fingernails should follow business formal standards, which means tasteful and unobtrusive.
Most healthcare workers are accustomed to wearing scrubs or gowns throughout their workday. Understandably, the same won’t apply for job interviews. Regardless of the healthcare department or position you are interviewing for, your safest bet would be to opt for a business casual outfit that leans heavily to the business side.
Healthcare workers are expected to be put-together and professional; your choice of clothing should reflect that.
The hospitality industry puts heavy emphasis on appearances and professionalism. In most cases, business formal attire will be expected when interviewing for a management, front-of-house, or customer-facing position.
For positions as a server, chef, or concierge, business casual is your best bet.
Jobs that require an extensive amount of physical labor or time spent outdoors usually require the least formal interview attire. Good examples of these “tough” jobs include positions in construction, gardening, and automotive workshops. For both men and women, it is recommended to dress in clean, conservative clothing that suits the work you will be doing.
Think long-sleeved shirts or short-sleeved button-downs, cargo pants or solid-color denim, and comfortable, closed-toe shoes. If you have long hair, it’s best to tie it back. Dressing with the job in mind will give your interviewer the impression that you know what the work requires and are eager to get started.
As these jobs often involve working with hazardous equipment, avoiding obvious safety issues like shorts, flip-flops, and long, loose hair is crucial to projecting a professional, experienced image to your interviewer.
Prudential is a leading provider of industry-specific uniforms and work attire. We stock the appropriate clothing for employees in sectors like:
Whether you are looking for the perfect outfit for your job interview or you’re an employer in search of high-quality uniforms for your employees, look through our website to learn what you need to look out for and how we can make the process of choosing workwear easier.