MEN: What to wear on a job interview

Don't Listen to Bad Advice

Choosing what to wear for a job interview is not always as cut and dry as it may at first seem. We have all heard our share of advice:

  • “Dress the part of the position.”
  • “Dress like those that will be interviewing you.”
  • “Dress better than the other applicants.”

And the advice goes on and on....

The trouble with this advice is it is inaccurate, incomplete, and ineffective. Dressing the part of the position may work for a high level executive but will certainly not be appropriate for a factory maintenance man. You SHOULD NOT wear a hard hat, steel toed shoes, and grease stained jeans to ANY interview.

Dressing similar to those that will be interviewing you could possibly work if you had a degree of magical talent and could somehow see into the future (or was privy to each interviewer’s home address, owned a pair of high powered binoculars, and had lots of time in the morning but this method is also not recommended….).

Dressing better than your competition also suffers from the aforementioned lack of magical powers.

So what is the best advice? And what should you wear?

Follow my advice below and you are certain to have a leg up on the competition

Dress Clothes

  • Level 1: Dress pants, button down dress shirt
  • Level 2: Dress pants, button down dress shirt, tie
  • Level 3: Two piece suit, dress shirt, tie

     

Choosing your level:  First, assuming you have some knowledge or experience in the position you are applying for, decide what level of dress you will be using on the job and then move up one level.  The absolute minimum is Level 1.  If you are applying for a labor position, or any position that requires very informal dress then interview on level 1.  Denim jeans, t-shirts, and polo shirts are absolutely out.  Wearing those things will at the very least put you in the “less dressed” portion of the interview pool, and will never increase your chances of success.   Remember being overdressed for an interview is WAY better than being underdressed. 

Also, it is very important to choose outwear that fits you well.  Dusting off an old pair of pants you wore for to your high school graduation (15 years ago) is probably not a good idea.  If possible, go buy a new outfit (I know guys I hate that word too) or two and make sure they fit you well.  Every men’s store or even men’s section at most department stores have staff that will happily measure you and make sure you are buying the right size pants and shirt.  If you are uncomfortable in your clothes, trust me, you will look uncomfortable in the interview.

As for colors, stay away from the extremes and coordinate.  All black is not recommended as it screams funeral and too bright colors may blind your interviewers.  Shy on the side of classic rather than hip.  Hip colors and patterns may appeal to a select few hiring managers and may make you stand out to them but you would definitely not be playing the odds.  Hiring managers will almost always choose the safe choice rather than the wild card.  Some sample levels are as follows:

  • Level 1: Khaki dress pants, dark blue dress shirt
  • Level 2:  Brown dress pants, white shirt, yellowish tie
  • Level 3:  Grey suit, white shirt, red and black tie

A sport coat could be used in lieu of a full suit in Level 3, however, in my opinion only wear a sport coat if you do not have a suit you can wear and you think the sport coat will allow you to avoid buying a new suit, otherwise, go with a suit.

Above all, and most importantly, don’t dress yourself!  Or at least let someone see you in your clothes first.  Put your chosen clothes on the night before and let as many people as you can look you over.  Feedback is helpful and designing your own outfit and heading to the interview without any feedback can be risky (and a horrible way to discover you are colorblind).

Belts and Shoes

 In short….WEAR THEM!  Sneakers, boots, sandals, etc have no place in an interview and do not match any of the levels above.  If you don’t have a pair of dress shoes buy some.  Ideally you should have a brown, and black pair as they will match almost all clothing.  Style is not as important as neatness.  Your shoes should look new or newer.  If you have an older pair of shoes you can clean them up very easily with products (die, wax, etc) available at any shoe or department store.  For just  a couple of dollars you can give your shoes new life.

Yes you do have to wear a belt!  My brother, headed to an interview last week said, “Why do I need to wear a belt if my pants aren’t falling down?”  The answer is simply: because you do.  Belts break up your pants and shirt and make you look more put together.  They are not optional!  Match your belt to your shoes and your pants.  Your pants are a bridge between your shoes and belt.  They should be in a consistent color family.  Grey pants mean black shoes and black belt.  Khaki pants mean brown shoes and a brown belt.  Get it?  Keep it simple, match your belt with your shoes and you’ll be all set.

FYI – black and blue NEVER match.  Do not wear black shoes with blue pants, it only looks like you thought your pants were black or you thought your shoes were blue.  Not everyone agrees with this point but my overwhelming opinion is to avoid this cliché.  When in doubt avoid being black and blue (also good advice for life in general).

Jewelry

If you own a nice watch, wear it.  If you are married, or have ONE ring you always wear, wear it.  Otherwise leave it at home.  Excessive rings, necklaces, earrings, and (I cringe) other facial jewelry has no place in an interview.  Wear them later after you have already won them over, but never allow your choice of jewelry to affect someone’s early impression of you.

Miscellaneous

· Wear dress socks that match your shoes. NEVER allow anyone to see you hairy legs! Pull your socks up all the way and test by sitting down and crossing one leg over the other (in the manly way) and make sure nothing is popping out.

· Shave. No excuses.

· Tie tacks and French cuffs with cuff links are bonuses but not required

· Don’t try anything fancy with your hair or get a haircut the night before. Keep it simple and keep the surprises to a minimum.

· Brush your teeth about 3000 times before you leave and bring with a couple of mints with you to pop in on your way but NEVER have anything in your mouth when you get there. Chew up the mint if you have to. Fresh breath is important. Gum is never appropriate unless you plan on swallowing it before hand.

 

So there you go, simple advice for an important event.  Dress nice, dress comfortably, and dress confidently.  If you feel good about how you look, your interviewers will feel good about you!

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