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What to Wear To A Job Interview - Dress Code Essentials

Updated on May 8, 2014

Interview Dress Code Rules

  • Your personal appearance is an extension of you and your attitude at work.
  • What you wear can project your status and how confident you are.
  • A smart appearance can = a smart approach to your work.
  • You can never dress too smart. (Ball gowns & tuxedos excepted!)
  • Look like you mean business regardless of the role you are being interviewed for.
  • Looking the part will make you feel more confident and prepared.

Some of this may seem like common sense but sadly putting it into action is not as common as most employers would like.

So what should you wear to an interview?

Whatever your job role, dress smart. In a survey conducted by The Ladders, 37% of hiring managers decided against a candidate due to the way they were dressed.

I once trained a chap who tried to convince me that he didn’t get the job on a building site due to the fact that he was the only candidate that turned up wearing a suit and looked out of place. Maybe that’s true…maybe? I might be wrong but my hunch is screaming out I doubt it.

Whatever the job role, look professional, look like you mean business, look like you want the job.

What To Wear To An Interview – Ladies

  • Aim for smart not sexy. Contemporary is fine but make sure anything that isn’t classic fits in with the company culture. If in doubt, play it safe. Once you have the job you can wear whatever your boss deems acceptable.
  • Don’t wear anything uncomfortable or restricting. Can you sit down? Look for good tailoring with a slight stretch or fabrics that don’t crease easily.
  • It’s no longer a full gone conclusion that ladies should wear a skirt or dress to an interview, trousers can be acceptable however aim to err on the side of caution and wear a two piece tailored trouser suit. Gone are the days of power dressing so ditch those huge comedy shoulder pads.
  • If you choose to wear a skirt or dress then anything above the knee should be avoided. Mid-length is best. Think sophisticated not sassy.
  • The same goes for your top. Avoid anything low cut and if wearing a blouse, keep it tucked in, opt for long sleeves and a collar.
  • All clothes are best in dark corporate block colours with an accent colour. Think navy blue skirt or suit with a coloured blouse or black and white (without looking like a waitress). Red is often perceived as domineering so if you choose this use it sparingly. Orange and pink are deemed as inappropriate colours for an interview although Easy Jet and Katie Price may disagree.
  • If you are wearing a skirt or dress then wear tights and have a spare pair in your bag just in case you ladder them before the interview.
  • Nails should be neat, clean and of a sensible length. In a 2012 survey carried out by Sara Stern, the beauty director of Debenhams, interviewers rated untidy chipped nail polish as the worst beauty blunder and the first thing they notice as they shake hands upon arrival.
  • The same survey concluded that bright red lipstick, heavily penciled eyebrows and overpowering perfume gave the impression that the candidate had an overconfident personality. Watch out for lipstick on your teeth ladies! This can show lack of attention to detail. Keep makeup minimal and natural; false eyelashes hanging off are likely to make you memorable for all the wrong reasons.
  • Hair should be groomed and unless you are a hairdresser (or interviewing for a role that requires a funky do) don’t go for anything crazy. Keep your style neat and simple if you can. No employer wants to hire someone who appears high maintenance or looks like Worzel Gummidge. If you play with your hair when you are nervous then keep it tied back to avoid distraction. Can the interviewer see your eyes or are you hiding behind a thick, long fringe? Career Builder interviewed 3,000 hiring managers and HR professionals to compile a list of the top unbelievable interview blunders and number 10 is a candidate who took out a hair brush and brushed her hair mid interview!
  • Do you have the most fabulous pair of killer heels? Save them for the weekend or a night out. Aim for elegant heels to avoid teetering (or slipping!) and click clack sounds. Check that your heels and toes aren’t scuffed and please, please remove the price tag from the sole!
  • What about jewellery and other accessories? Again, most interviewers prefer understated and minimal. Dangly earrings can be distracting and multiple bracelets may create noise if you are animated while you speak. A couple of rings are fine but knuckle dusters and too much bling are a big no no. If you have lots of piercings, reduce the quantity significantly until the interview is over.
  • What does your handbag say about you? It’s not just about what to wear to an interview but what you take with you that can reduce your chances of success. You don’t have to splurge on a Mulberry or Birken but do take something that is simple, stylish and classic. Ensure it is large enough to hold your CV and any other documents you may have been asked to bring with you without the need to fold them and has enough pockets or compartments to organise and hold the contents. The last thing you want is your whole life displayed when you open it up or disorganised chaos causing you to fumble. As with your shoes, check for scuffs or marks.

A great excuse to go shopping? Of course! You don’t have to spend a fortune if you do but think about quality and how many other opportunities you will have to wear the outfit before deciding your budget.

What To Wear To An Interview – Men

Just like the ladies (did you read that section?!), keep to classic corporate styles and colours.

  • Suit, suit, suit! A smart tailored dark coloured suit with a plain long sleeved shirt is regarded the most appropriate attire for a job interview. Dark blue or grey is often preferred over black to avoid a funeral-esque look.
  • Your shirt should be long sleeved with a straight point collar in a plain colour and cufflinks will add a smarter and more professional edge.
  • Keep your suit jacket buttoned while standing and entering the room however it is ok to unbutton it when you sit down.
  • Always wear a tie which should be long enough to reach your belt buckle. Patterns and stripes can look great but aim to limit these to no more than three colours. You don’t want your tie to look like a magic eye optical illusion to the interviewer. Zany or whacky pictures are a huge no. You may be Bart Simpson’s number one fan but leave a tie with his picture firmly at home.
  • Socks (no, I’m not being picky!) should match your suit and be long enough not to expose skin when you sit down. Once again, no crazy pictures or slogans and for goodness sake burn the ones that your Nan bought you with the days of the week on!
  • If you choose to wear a belt, make sure that the buckle is understated and small. Check that the holes aren’t overstretched or the main bulk showing scuffs and marks.
  • Your shoes can say a lot about you so ensure they are business like and smart. No trainers! Polish them before the interview and keep laces tied tightly.
  • Unless you can absolutely guarantee your interviewer will be impressed that your outlandish facial hair is because you are raising significant sums of cash for Movember, keep any facial hair neat, tidy and well groomed. Think carefully how your designer stubble may be perceived. Could your trendy tash be viewed as couldn’t be bothered to shave?
  • Just like the ladies, ensure your hairstyle is also well groomed. Go easy on the gel though. If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at the film Coming To America and that should give you some idea where I am coming from on this one
  • To manbag or not to manbag? Well this one is up to you. Think about what you have to take to the interview. Your CV? A notebook and pen? How will you carry them? For style, opt for an attache case or portfolio folder. Never take a carrier bag and avoid rucksacks unless the student look is going to increase your chances. Make sure that you can sit down comfortably without the need to empty overstuffed pockets.
  • If you wear jewellery, keep this to a minimum.


What To Wear To An Interview – Everyone

Regardless of gender, one of the main gripes I hear from interviewers is that candidates often have an over powering scent. If you wear perfume, aftershave or cologne then do keep this subtle and although it may sound obvious, make sure that you are clean! So many candidates have sweat marks and this is definitely not a good look! Remember that you may be nervous which can in turn cause you to perspire more than usual so deodorant is an essential piece of kit.

If you have tattoos then it is usually best to keep these covered. Personally, I like them but not all interviewers do.

Take an umbrella with you even if the sun was shining when you left the house better safe than soggy mess.

Avoid anything that can give you bad breath. Last night’s curry or garlic bread may still be lingering so if that was your gourmet of choice take some mints or breath freshener with you. Are you a smoker? Resist the temptation to puff to calm your nerves. The interviewer WILL smell it. Just had lunch? Check your teeth for leftovers.

Double check the letter (if you received one) that invited you to the interview. There may be a dress code on there. If you are really unsure then you could call the HR department. If you are told smart casual, go for the smarter end of the scale.

Arrive at the interview early so you can have a last minute check on how fabulous you look in the toilet mirrors.

And finally, remember you’re never fully dressed without a smile :-)

Dressing For Interviews

How much preparation do you put into your interview clothing?

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