What to wear to the job interview

Dressing for the job interview is stressful. Even people with normally impeccable fashion sense and powerful self confidence can be sent into a state of panic over the decision of what to wear for the interview.

Is it better to overdress or underdress? Are jeans OK? Does it depend on the industry? Do some colours make you seem more professional than others? So many questions!

Don’t worry. We’re going to answer then for you:

Here’s what you need to know about dressing for the job interview:

It’s (usually) better to err on the side of formality.

If you can find out what the company culture is like, you should. Knowing that everyone wears jeans and sneakers to the office, or proudly displays their sleeve tattoos can help you make the right decision. I have a friend who once showed up to an interview at a record label in a smart business suit. Everyone else was dressed casually, and she did not get the job. The interviewer even remarked on her lack of fit for the company culture.

But even if that is a risk, you’re still probably better to err on the side of formality if you have no idea about the company culture, as underdressing can be interpreted as a lack of respect or enthusiasm.  

Jeans are OK – but it depends on the industry

Yes, there are sectors where jeans are OK for the interview, others where they’re not, and still others where they might and might not be. These probably look something like this:

Jeans OK

Media in general
Casual dining
Tech startup

Jeans not OK

Finance (banking, accounting etc.)

Jeans maybe OK

Everything else

If you do decide to go with jeans, however, they should be clean, and not ripped, too tight, or low riding. This is common sense, but it’s often said common sense is not all that common.

Stick to neutral colours

Research suggests that black, blue, and grey are associated with good professional impressions like leadership and logic, while white suggests you’re organized and red is indicative of power, while purple, yellow and green suggest creativity. Blue may also be associated with creativity. It also seems that hiring managers also don’t like the colour orange – so don’t wear orange, just in case.

Really, reactions to colours are subjective and not something you can control or predict, but sticking to neutrals with a few bright accents is a safe bet.

Play it safe

If you need the job, the interview is not the time to assert your wacky individuality. So, if you like to flaunt your tattoos, or wear crazy hats, you should consider the impact that might have on the interviewer’s impression of you. If you’re willing to stand by your choices to the point where you’ll sacrifice a job for the sake of your multiple lip rings, by all means, wear them. But keep in mind that it might affect your chances.

I, for example, have a hand tattoo that I can’t hide unless I wear gloves (which would be weird in an interview). I made an informed choice that doesn’t really affect me as a marketing creative who works in the tech sector. But you might not want to get one if you’re going into banking.

Cover up

Sexy is never acceptable at the job interview, unless you’re applying for a job that requires you to look sexy. Short skirts, open shirts, cleavage, anything backless — leave it all for the club. The hiring manager should not be able to see up it, down it, or through it.

Job interview dressing Dos and Don’ts at a glance

Do wear

A suit
Clean shoes with closed toes and reasonable heels
Clean, business casual, pants or skirt/dress
Clean shirt that covers at least your shoulders
Blazer (not necessary but allowed)
Neutral colours

Don’t wear

Open toed shoes (some hiring managers are bothered by any exposure of toes)
T-shirts with stupid things written on them like “Female body inspector,” even if you think it’s hilariously ironic.
Tank tops
Anything that shows your bare chest or cleavage
A lot of jewellery
A lot of perfume (many say you shouldn’t wear any scent. I don’t.)
Leggings as pants
Sweat pants
Anything with rips in it
Heels so high you have trouble walking in them
Anything with a stain or a rip

This should all be obvious, but as almost any hiring manager will tell you, it apparently isn’t.

Dress well, and go get ‘em.

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