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Top Tips on How to Dress for an Interview

Updated on January 1, 2015

Creating a good impression

Congratulations! So you’ve been invited to attend an interview for a new job, but now you are starting to think about what it will be like and maybe getting a little nervous. But preparation is key. One of the things that you can do to help yourself is to consider your appearance and how you will make that first impression. Get that sorted and you can then concentrate on practicing for the interview questions.

It may seem superficial to think about your appearance; surely the important thing is experience and ability? Well yes that is true but you will be interviewed by human beings who have certain expectations and whether these are logical or not, you will want to give yourself every chance by conforming to those expectations.

Make the effort

I have interviewed very many applicants over the years and employing managers always appreciate that the candidate has “made an effort”. There are times when someone attends interview straight from their current job having had no opportunity to change out of their work clothes (for example an electrician who is seeking a move into a similar role) and in such circumstances, the interview panel will be understanding. The point that I am making here is that you need to dress for the job that you aspire to and if you present a smart image this can go in your favour. Of course you will need to have the required skill set but personal presentation is often taken as a sign of attitude. You may feel that to conform to a dress code is a denial of your personal freedom and that may be true. However, you need to remember that you are trying to impress someone you haven’t met who potentially may be very conservative in their outlook. Additionally, you don’t want to detract from your answers by presenting a visually “loud” demeanour. You can be trendy without going overboard.

There is no need to go out and buy a special outfit if you already have something in your wardrobe that is smart. Indeed it can be quite comforting to wear something that you are familiar with, just be sure that it is clean and well pressed.

To get an idea of what is normal for the company, have a look at their website. You could actually visit their reception and ask if they have any company brochures. This will have the benefit of gaining understanding of the company, its success and vision, but may also have the added benefit of pictures of employees that can help you to gauge the normal dress code. Aim for a conservative overall appearance and, unless you are being interviewed for a job in the creative arts or fashion, this is not the time for a high fashion item. You are aiming to be perceived as reliable and capable.

Colour and fabric

In general, keep to neutral colours for suits, skirts, trousers such as grey, navy and black. Navy is often thought of as professional and is usually complementary to most complexions. However, brown can be a tricky colour to wear. In the winter your colour palate will be more muted but you can get away with lighter colours and fabrics in the summer. If you opt for a lighter colour check to see if it will show sweat marks. A low-key pattern such as subtle stripes or checks can divert the eye away from marks and creases.

Suit or mix and match?

Your actual choice of outfit will really depend upon the job that you are applying for. If you would be customer facing, perhaps in a bank or solicitors, then a suit would be more appropriate. However, a toning jacket and trousers/skirt can look very smart and professional. You are aiming to create an image in your interviewer’s mind that helps them to “see” you in that role.

You can brighten your appearance with a good choice of top or shirt. White always looks good, but only if it is spotlessly clean and well pressed. The major advantage with white or cream is that it will go with anything. Other colours that contrast against the main outfit will look smart but consider the reflection of the colour against your skin. Some people look awful in any shade of yellow, whilst a fresh blue can be enhancing. If you choose a patterned shirt or top, try to keep it fairly muted: you don’t want it to detract from what you are saying when you talk to the interviewers.

If you can afford an outfit that is wool or wool mixed, this tends to be more comfortable. On the other hand, the advantage of many man-made fibres is that they tend not to crease though some can leave you feeling quite hot. Similarly, with shirts and blouses, cotton or silk are the most comfortable materials. I would stay away from linen, which is super cool but tends to crease badly and looks too casual. If you choose a polyester and cotton mix fabric, be careful that it is of good quality and not too thin.

As a general rule, make sure that your outfit is large enough. When you sit down, you don’t want your blouse or shirt straining at the buttons. Remember that this is the area that your interviewer will be aware of and even if you are quite slim, you could be revealing more than you would wish.

Shoes

You may think that no one will notice your shoes. However, I have known some ex-military managers who will always glance at a candidate's shoes to check if they are clean! This may not be the time to wear new shoes, for two reasons. Firstly, you need to be comfortable and secondly the soles of new shoes can be quite slippery and I am sure you won’t want to be demonstrating your skating skills! On the other hand, make sure that they are still smart and not down at heel. Suede can be tricky as it easily becomes dusty, but plain leather is unlikely to let you down, provided that it has been well polished.

Scent

Whether you wear any scent or not is really a matter of personal choice but if you do so, make sure that it is subtle. Your interview may be in a small room and you won’t want to overwhelm your interviewers. A light classic cologne is usually sufficient.

While we are considering smell, make sure that your clothes do not smell of last night’s take-way. The smell of fried food has a nasty way of getting into fabric so keep your interview clothes covered and away from any cooking.

Specifically for the guys

Accessories: Your choice of tie can be quite revealing. It probably isn’t a good time to wear your Homer Simpson tie but keep it more reserved. It will need to tone in with your shirt, and of course it will be free from any food stains! Please do a decent knot and have it done up to the neck. Socks also need to be conservative and either matched to your shoe colour or to the colour of your trousers. I would suggest that you do not go without socks no matter how hot it is as they “finish” the gap between shoe and trouser.

Your shirt may require cuff-links and again I would suggest that you wear more conservative links than novelty ones. Sometimes the cuffs and cuff-links make the end of jacket sleeves a little bulky and cause the sleeve to ride up. If you can cope with this then fine, but try to refrain from continually playing with your cuffs if you can. (However, it can sometimes be quite useful to do so if you are considering an answer to a question, just don’t overdo it!)

You may wish to wear a belt and team it with your shoe colour or your trouser colour. If you are a little overweight will your trousers bend over at the waist? If so, a belt can help to prevent this.

Many guys wear jewellery these days but I recommend that you keep it to a minimum, perhaps a single ring, watch and maybe a discreet bracelet as maximum, or very little at all if that is your preferred normal style. Earrings and heavy chains are often fashionable but since you don’t know your interviewers you may prefer to keep your jewellery understated.

Specifically for the girls

You will have a greater choice of outfit than your male counterparts and this can cause you some dilemma. Whether you wear a skirt or trousers is usually immaterial but I suggest that you select more classic styles rather than high fashion. Very short skirts are not a good idea: as you will be sitting down and a short skirt length can be a little too revealing and lose you credibility. Also, consider the interviewer’s view of you from the back as you leave the room: you will want to do so gracefully without having to pull your skirt down. A knee-length skirt won’t make a fool of you. Similarly, avoid plunging necklines, unless you are in the entertainment business it is usually inappropriate to reveal much cleavage. That doesn’t mean that you are restricted to high necklines but when you are selecting your outfit consider how it looks when you are sitting down and whether a neckline has a life of its own when you lean forward.

If you prefer you could wear a dress rather than a suit. Worn with a jacket, matching or contrasting, looks smart. You could choose a cardigan as a cover-up but be sure that it is a smart one rather than casual: this is what I mean where choice can start to be difficult. Make sure that your underwear offers you a good outline and supports any more fragile fabric.

You may prefer to wear shoes with a heel. This is fine so long as they are not too high: you want to be able to walk elegantly and this can be hard to master in very high heels, not to mention the effect it can have on your posture which needs to show you as upright and confident.

As a rule, bare legs are less appropriate and even very fine tights or stockings give a “finished” appearance to legs. But I understand that it is becoming more common for bare legs to be acceptable. (Assuming that weather permits, of course: goose bumps are not a great look!)

Accessories: like the guys, keep your jewellery tasteful. Clanking bracelets and swinging earrings are distracting for your interviewer. Aim to be neat but not gaudy. Having said that, the right choice of accessories can really transform an outfit. If you are someone who likes scarves, you will know how the right coloured scarf can enhance a plain suit.

If you wish to carry a bag/purse then you will need to think about what you will have in it. Maybe you are just carrying your keys, mobile phone and wallet. In which case, you can get away with a small discreet bag. However, you might like to choose a larger bag to act as a portfolio to carry your CV and letter of invitation to interview. Don’t have a bag plus a portfolio though – far too much juggling! Few women’s clothes have much in the way of pockets and in any case stuffing keys etc into pockets ruins the look of an outfit. This is not the time to cart around large bags of make-up, hairbrushes or anything that is not relevant to your appointment. Whatever you chose, consider where you will place your bag during the interview; will it sit on your lap or at you feet? Try to avoid placing it on the table as this can be viewed as an “invasion” of the interviewer’s space and can be distracting.

Personal cleanliness

You might feel that this paragraph is unnecessary but let me assure that it is very relevant. I have had the misfortune to be in an interview room with candidates who have not paid attention to their personal hygiene and I can tell you that it is not a pleasant experience! Of course you will ensure that you are clean and fresh, won’t you? Consider how what you eat will seep through your skin, so I suggest that you steer clear of highly spiced food the night before you have your interview and keep well hydrated. If you suffer with sweaty palms, try to wash them under a cold tap before you go into interview. You could rub a little deodorant into your palms but don’t overdo it. Nails need to be neat and absolutely clean. Nail varnish can be a nuisance if it chips on the way to the interview so either go without, or use a clear varnish/ nail strengthener

I hope you find this article helpful in giving you some confidence.

Good Luck with your job hunting.

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