- The Basics
- Accessories and a clean look
- Colors and their hidden meanings
- Casual interviews
- Things to avoid
- Home interviews
- Bottom line
Congratulations! The company you applied for received your application and like what they read. They want you to come in for an interview so they can get to know you better and ask you all the right questions. That’s awesome – right until the moment you start panicking about what to wear. This is understandable. You don’t want to overdress nor underdress. You want to make an impression without screaming the wrong thing. So, what do you wear?
In this guide, you will find some helpful tips on what outfit to wear for your job interview. We will start with the more classic ideas on formal attire and then talk a little about color psychology. From there, we need to consider alternative ideas depending on the role and company. There are some places where a boring suit and tie just won’t do. Finally, we’ll consider some other important red flags to avoid.
What should your outfit be for your job interview?
Let’s assume that you are applying for a position within a larger company, such as a financial institution, retail giant, or some other office job. You want to give off an air of professionalism through your attire. This means the following:
- long trousers or slacks with a good fit
- a button-down shirt – nicely pressed
- a jacket
- possibly a suit instead of jacket and slacks for a high-end position
- possibly a tie to make a better impression
- closed-toe shoes – nicely cleaned.
So…to wear a suit or not to wear a suit? Suits are perfect for a lot of interviews where you are after an important role, or perhaps a promotion. It’s all about dressing for the job you want. But, suits can be too much for an entry-level position. Here smart trousers and a jacket will probably do fine. If you go for the suit however, make sure it’s a good fit.
We have emphasized the idea of long trousers and button-down shirts for a reason. This might sound obvious, but there are too many applicants these days that think they can get away with long shorts or a T-shirt in any role. The shirt must have all its buttons and you really should fasten them all and tuck it in.
A tie is optional depending on the role. But, it does show that you made an effort. It can also have a psychological effect of putting you in that serious frame of mind. Just make sure to practice tying it if you haven’t done it before.
Then there are the shoes. Simple, smart, closed-toe shoes in black or brown are all you need. They must look smart but not too eye-catching. This isn’t the place for designer sneakers. A striking pair of converse will work in younger environments, but not in corporate settings. Think about where you are. As with the suit, a good fit and comfort are important if you are going to walk into the room with confidence.
Your attire isn’t complete without the finishing touches
What about some accessories and extra touches besides the tie? Tie pins, cufflinks, and other fancy extras can become conversation starters for a high-end role. A nice watch helps too – it gives the impression of someone that appreciates punctuality.
Women are often advised to think about make-up and nail polish in a statement color. Of course, men got it easier here, but there is no reason not to take a good look in the mirror the night before and pluck out your unibrow or try to mask off any zips you might have.
While at it, it’s also important to note that good grooming and hygiene go a long way. Make sure any facial hair is neat and tidy and your hair is clean. Also, keep in mind that a really nice pressed shirt won’t hide any sweat patches or weird odors. Try to put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and think about what you find repulsive at other people. Chances are whatever is off putting for you, will be the same for them.
What colors should you wear for a job interview?
Color psychology is an interesting topic that influences everything from the brands we buy to the way we decorate. The colors we choose to wear also say a lot about ourselves and this form of expression can make a big difference in interviews. So what is the best approach here?
- A neutral palette of black, grey, and brown?
- Something a little more colorful with pastels and soft blues or pinks?
- A little pop of a brighter color here and there?
- Something completely bold and unforgettable?
There is still a common notion that neutral is the way to go for any interview in a major firm. You aren’t there to put yourself over as a left-field choice. Instead, you want to show professionalism and a presentable nature at all times. There is also an argument here that if you are just another new hire in a large department, you don’t need to stand out or show too much personality.
However, there is nothing wrong with bringing in a little color where appropriate. A nice calming blue could have a positive effect on the room – and maybe your own mental state during the process. The right yellow/purple in a shirt can be quite masculine and confident. There is nothing wrong with wanting to show a little personality in these interviews, especially for more prominent roles. Besides, you don’t always want to look like you’re going to a funeral.
With that said, you do need to be careful about how you use colors. A bright red suit or patterned shirt will say that you demand attention, and may be difficult to handle. Red looks a little aggressive. Orange is another color that hiring teams sometimes can’t stand. Purple, on the other hand, suggests some creativity while yellow brings positivity. It is best to do this in small doses. Also, a pocket square on a crisp suit or a bright tie on a black or white shirt can break the monotony.
Does all of this apply in every situation?
No. While it’s a common assumption that job interviews mean showing up in your best suit and tie and fitting in with corporate expectations, not all take place in that sphere. The stereotypical job interview with the interviewer asking questions from across the desk in a large company building isn’t everyone’s experience anymore. So what happens if you are applying:
- for a lower-level blue-collar job somewhere?
- for a role in a creative industry?
- to work with a young, casual start-up?
Let’s start with those blue-collar jobs. Here those fancy suits and ties are a bit out of place. If the guy giving the interview is more casual than you are, you might come across as thinking too highly of yourself. You still need to be smart, with a good shirt and pair of trousers, ideally in the same neutral tones. But, you can probably get away with more of a casual look. A good pair of jeans and a black shirt might be enough.
When it comes to creative industries, you really are selling yourself as a person as much as you are an asset to the company. This is where that idea of looking neutral won’t work. You need to show personality to help you convey your ideas and approaches. You have to be authentic and true to your talent and work, not just another cog in the machine.
Then there are the younger start-up companies. You may think that workers and bosses in these places have absolutely no worries at all about uniforms or dress codes. That may well be the case sometimes, but don’t wear anything that may come off as offensive. Show some personality with your shirt – perhaps something nerdy enough for a tech company – but pair it with jeans and a jacket.
What do you need to avoid when choosing your job interview outfit?
Whatever the role or the company, there are some basic rules to work by for the perfect job interview attire. While planning your outfit based on the factors above, you also need to consider the following issues that could sound alarm bells.
- the cleanliness of your clothes
- any noticeable holes or tears
- anything that could be offensive or divisive
- the visibility of any piercings or tattoos
There is a difference between freshly laundered clean clothes and laundered but sat in a wardrobe for months. Get everything you want to wear washed, dried, and pressed nicely. Even the tie. Hang it in your room overnight and keep it neat. If your laziness kicks in at the idea of ironing anything, get a steaming tool, or just ask someone more capable.
Then we got the holes and tears. You may have panicked when the call came for the interview and started rummaging in your wardrobe for your “go-to” items. That fit shirt that only comes up for family events, that pair of shoes you last wore to your cousin’s wedding in 2015… They may be past their best with scuffs, holes, and tears. A missing button is replaceable, but it is best to go get something new that you will feel good in.
Offensive or divisive elements of your attire are clearly to be avoided. You don’t want to alienate people with a first impression. You might have a tie with a joke, curse word, or adult image that gets you a laugh at parties. Leave it at home. The same is true for any political pins or imagery. “I voted” badges are great on polling day around the office. Campaign badges at an interview, not so much.
Finally, there is the issue of piercings and tattoos. To be honest, this isn’t the big deal it once was in many companies. Gone are the days when our elders told us that we’d never land a job with ink all up our arms. Obviously, this can be an asset in certain roles and creative sectors. But, consider covering them up with long-sleeves for anything more corporate type. As for piercings, consider removing them (if you can) for the interview so you can ask about policies first.
Do these rules still apply in an era of quarantine?
This is something we need to talk about for a moment. We can’t treat this like your typical guide to job interview outfits because life isn’t always typical. Over the months of quarantines and lockdowns, we have seen a rise in Zoom calls and video conferences for all kinds of meetings. It is so much easier to conduct a job interview this way and have people work from home than wait until things get better. Your interview may happen this way.
Don’t think that you are off the hook because you get to carry this out in your living room or kitchen. You still need to dress in exactly the same way as you would have done in their office. They can still pass judgment on your levels of professionalism and any flaws in your attire. Make sure the outfit is complete too. No slippers or boardshorts beneath the table where they can’t see you. You never know, you may have to get up for something.
Choose an outfit that is appropriate, comfortable, and authentic
In short, if you want to nail it, you need to dress for the role and the company rather than just treat this like any old job interview. A neutral suit and tie are great in many situations, especially with a bit of yellow/purple thrown in. But, many younger companies and blue-collar roles don’t require this. Do a little background research on the company before deciding.
Also, don’t forget that you are there to show people who you are. There is no point going over-the-top with an outfit that gives the wrong impression of yourself and doesn’t play to your strengths. It also helps to be comfortable in whatever you wear, which is why smart-casual is a winner for so many situations.
Take your time to go over your options, talk to friends and family in similar roles for their input, and find what fits best. Good luck!