One of the questions I am asked most frequently is “What do I wear for an interview?”
I would say that my one overarching rule is this: always err on the dressier side. If you are wearing a suit, I know you have jeans in your closet. If you are wearing jeans, I don’t know if you have a suit in your closet.
I think because I truly do love clothing, I have been able to distill all the advice out there and come up with the perfect interview outfits for men and women regardless of career, age, size or budget.
A quick anecdote to illustrate my point: one of my friend’s boyfriend works in skilled trade and had an interview. He took my advice even though he thought it was overkill. In the preliminary interview rounds, he noticed that other candidates, his competition, had opted for more casual attire. He said it gave him a boost because he felt he presented himself well and that he clearly came across as being more professional. By the final round of interviews, he said he didn’t see anyone else. He ended up getting the job and he was thrilled. While his skills and personality are what got him the job, his professional presentation gave him the edge. And in this competitive day and age, we need all the “edge” we can get.
While men have less variety than women, the devil is in the details. It all comes down to fit and polish. No matter what you wear, make sure that it fits well, that you have ironed everything and that your shoes are polished. If ironing and polishing are a pain or if you don’t know how to do them well, bring your things to a local dry cleaner and cobbler. It is really inexpensive to have your pieces professionally steamed and polished and the payoff is vastly outweighs the cost.
What to wear
If you are in a profession were there is a heavy emphasis on tradition such as academics, medicine, law, finance etc. or if you are interviewing for positions of manager and above you must wear an impeccably tailored suit at all times. If you are wearing a black suit, I would warn against pairing it with a white shirt because this tends to be the uniform one wears in the hotel or restaurant industry. There is nothing wrong with it, but it may not be an image you want to evoke. I very much like a charcoal grey suit because you don’t run this risk and it looks great in all seasons.
If you are in a profession where it would look strange for you to wear a suit, I would recommend a fall/winter interview outfit of a dress shirt and tie, a débardeur (sleeveless sweater) and dress pants. You will look professional without being over the top and chances are you already have much of what you need in your closet.
For spring/summer, I would recommend a cotton piqué polo shirt and khakis or dress pants. As I mentioned at the beginning, iron your polo and your pants. This elevates the look and avoids coming across like you are going to someone’s house for a barbecue.
The challenge for women is that there is so much conflicting information out there. My best advice is to do you. If you are more conservative, do that. If you are more trend-oriented, do that. For your hair and makeup, don’t try anything new. Do your tried and true looks that make you feel confident.
What to wear
Similarly as with men, if you are in a profession were there is an emphasis on tradition such as academics, medicine, law, finance etc. or if you are interviewing for positions of manager and above you must wear a suit for all rounds of interviews. Whenever you buy suits, always get the pants and the skirt. While it is an investment up front, it allows you seasonal flexibility. Trying to match something after the fact is a nightmare we have all experienced, and a professional setting is neither the time nor the place to run this risk.
If you are in a profession where you never wear a suit, your “best friend” piece will be either a shift dress or a wrap dress, depending on your shape. These two styles are the most universally flattering. You can elevate the look simply throwing on a blazer or a cardigan, whichever is more aligned with your personality. These can also act as an extra layer when the weather is colder.
The reason why I suggest a dress is that you are eliminating 99% of the decision-making. You don’t need to match or coordinate anything, you don’t need to accessorize much, any height of heel works and if your weight fluctuates, it won’t show with these dress shapes. These types of dresses are timeless, always in season and available at all price points.
So there you have it. Now that you know what to wear, you can focus on researching the company and practicing your interview questions. I wish you best of luck on your interview and that this advice was able to provide you with a little “edge”.