How to Dress for an Interview – 5 Job Search Dress Code Must-Haves

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For many of us students and recent graduates who gladly roamed campus in yesterday’s sweats, fashion is a foreign world tread only when absolutely necessary.  So, in order to make things easier: here are a few staple items that every job seeker should have in the closet.  The great thing about staple items is that they never really go out of style.  Invest in quality pieces now, and you will be able to wear them for years to come.

1. Conservative suit

A nice, conservative suit is an absolute must-have.  If you have the money, get it tailored to fit. The fabric should be a neutral or solid color – black and navy are the most common, but there’s no reason why you can’t have a little fun and go with a nice taupe or pinstripe.  When considering different types of ties, appliqués, or lapels, remember that the simpler the better.  Once you’re hired, you will have all the time in the world to impress your coworkers with your amazing sense of style.  Stick to the basics during your interview to convey a professional, polished look.  Women can wear a pant or skirt suit and should always wear sheer, neutral hosiery underneath – keep an extra pair in your purse in case you run the hosiery in transit.  It never hurts to be prepared!

2. Neatly pressed blouse or shirt

If you’re a man, a white, long-sleeved 100% cotton shirt with button cuffs is always acceptable.  For women, blouses or shirts should be white or ivory and conservative.  The neckline should coordinate with the lines of your jacket lapel.  Stay away from shirts that are too tight or revealing – while it might land you a date, it won’t land you a job!

3. A simple, professional watch

A watch is a great piece of flair that you can wear without worrying about committing a fashion faux pas.  Be sure to disable any functions that would cause the watch to beep during an interview.  While watches are by no means necessary as a means of telling time (now that everyone and their grandmother has a cell phone), watches are still an important part of an interview wardrobe.  Foregoing a watch can effectively say “I am never on time, ever.”  This writer recommends eco-drive watches: they’re solar powered and can run for years without having to change the battery!

4. Dress shoes

You should invest in a nice pair of interview shoes in a dark solid color that coordinates with your suit.  For women, shoes should always be closed toed with a heel of 2.5” or less.  Avoid anything shiny or textured – try for leather or synthetic fabrics that will not draw attention.   For men, just stay away from loafers!  Classic, tie-up dress shoes are always in style.  Your belt should match your shoes.

5. A simple bag or briefcase

One thing about briefcases: if you don’t have a reason to carry one, don’t.  But you should have some kind of bag with you to hold your resume, your phone, extra hosiery and everything else necessary or superfluous that you will want to carry with you on interview day.  Stick with neutral colors – a dark leather is always best.  Stay away from anything ridiculously large or small, and from messenger bags that sling across your body.  Over or undersized bags can make your entire outfit look unprofessional, and a slung-over bag will wrinkle your nicely pressed suit.  For women, if you’re not looking to invest in a bag specifically for interviewing and professional purposes, try getting something that will work for both work and play – like a neutral color Longchamp bag.

Beyond these basic items, there are a wide range of things you can do to to spruce up your look for an interview and make you look and feel your very best.  Be sure that your hair is neatly cut and styled and your nails are clean and cut short.  Always err on the side of caution when it comes to accessories, but the great thing about many of these staple items is that they can also be paired with fun, colorful pieces during the work week to add some professional excitement to your wardrobe.  These are working items that you can continue to wear and enjoy for years.

If there’s one thing I learned from years of watching What Not to Wear, it’s that fashion does make a difference in the way we look, feel, and present ourselves.  Dress for Success, and your confidence will reflect that effort!

Farewell, fashionistas -

Your interview style gurus,

The Doostang Team

Comments

  1. says

    In my industry (Web Development) I was once told explicitly “DO NOT wear a suit to the interview” – and when I said I always wear a suit I was advised that would ensure I would not get the job. So I always have to enquire “What is the dress code”

  2. says

    In my industry (Web Development) I was once told explicitly “DO NOT wear a suit to the interview” – and when I said I always wear a suit I was advised that would ensure I would not get the job. So I always have to enquire “What is the dress code”

  3. says

    That’s a good point. In a few industries and for some companies (small high-tech start-ups for example) there is no office dress code so chances are your interviewer will be dressed informally. It’s always good to research the company ahead of time and see if you can get a better sense of their workspace environment. But don’t dress down unless you’re absolutely sure that the company lacks all dress-code rules – it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. The chances of you not getting the job because you were overdressed (like you mentioned) are very low, but if you don’t fit the professional image of the company, the interviewer will silently say “next” the moment you walk through the door.

    If you’re sure that no one at the company dresses formally, imagine the interview ahead of time and think about how it would make you feel – if wearing that suit always boosts up your confidence and makes you feel like you’re meant for the job, then by all means suit up – your confidence will speak for itself and the interviewer will be all the more impressed with your professionalism. But if being overdressed and looking more professional than the person interviewing you is going to feel awkward, don’t do it.

    For companies that lack a dress code for its employees, we still recommend a professional polished look, but you can swap out the full on suit for a more business casual approach. Men can opt out of the blazer and (sometimes) tie and women can do a trendier interpretation of the suit with a neutral color button-down dress or a skirt and a vest. A good rule of thumb is to always wear a button-down shirt and nice shoes and change the rest of your outfit depending on the company.

    And of course, if you’re explicitly told to not wear a suit, please don’t.

  4. says

    That’s a good point. In a few industries and for some companies (small high-tech start-ups for example) there is no office dress code so chances are your interviewer will be dressed informally. It’s always good to research the company ahead of time and see if you can get a better sense of their workspace environment. But don’t dress down unless you’re absolutely sure that the company lacks all dress-code rules – it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. The chances of you not getting the job because you were overdressed (like you mentioned) are very low, but if you don’t fit the professional image of the company, the interviewer will silently say “next” the moment you walk through the door.

    If you’re sure that no one at the company dresses formally, imagine the interview ahead of time and think about how it would make you feel – if wearing that suit always boosts up your confidence and makes you feel like you’re meant for the job, then by all means suit up – your confidence will speak for itself and the interviewer will be all the more impressed with your professionalism. But if being overdressed and looking more professional than the person interviewing you is going to feel awkward, don’t do it.

    For companies that lack a dress code for its employees, we still recommend a professional polished look, but you can swap out the full on suit for a more business casual approach. Men can opt out of the blazer and (sometimes) tie and women can do a trendier interpretation of the suit with a neutral color button-down dress or a skirt and a vest. A good rule of thumb is to always wear a button-down shirt and nice shoes and change the rest of your outfit depending on the company.

    And of course, if you’re explicitly told to not wear a suit, please don’t.

  5. says

    Doostang, Great site and post.

    Couple of other tips you might want to consider adding:

    1. For those that are concerned with cost, you can go to second hand stores for gently used clothing then spend a little more on tailoring. I have purchased a $1,000 black wool suit for $30 and then had it tailored for an additional $30. It may take a little time to hunt through all of the suits, slacks, and blazers but you can save a boatload of cash.

    2. Social media and the company’s website can be an awesome place to learn what the dress code (whether it is a formal policy, or not). You can search sites for pictures of employees, though you have to take those pictures with a grain, if not a pound, of salt.

    3. If you are unsure of the dress code, make the call. If that doesn’t answer your question or not sure what “Business Casual” means to the organization, do a little reconnaissance. Find a time when you can be “near” the entrance or exit (parked across the street or in the lobby if it is a multiple business high rise building). And… if you have used your social media skills, you may know some of the faces to see what they are wearing. While that sounds creapy taken singularly, it will also help you to NOT make a “fashion” faux pas. Of course you always want to dress one or two steps above the position you are applying for.

  6. says

    The most appropriate look for both men and women at interviews is conservative and traditional. It is wise to invest in a well-made, good-fitting suit as a beginning step to a successful career change.

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