Dressing for Interview Success
While the college campus may be an open forum in which to exhibit your flair for the latest in fashion style, the interview is not the place to do so. With very few unusual exceptions (such as some tech companies or creative ad agencies), sandals and sweatshirts are out. Business suits are still the default standard when it comes to interviewing. Even though many companies have relaxed the internal company dress code, interviews still tend to follow a more conservative standard. This is not a time to set out on your own to start a new trend.
Most college grads are woefully underprepared with proper interview outfits. Many feel they can simply get by with what is already in their wardrobe. Usually not. Dress for the world outside college is quite different from the campus scene. Remember that stylish is typically not conservative. Conservative dress is always "in" for interviewing. Why? Because you should be doing the talking, not your clothes. If your clothes are a distraction, they are distracting from who you are in the interview.
This is not to say that you need to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. Go for quality over quantity. One or two well-chosen business suits will serve you well all the way to the first day on the job and beyond. Then, when you are making some money (and have a chance to see what the standard "uniform" is for the company from an inside perspective), you can begin to round out your wardrobe. For now, no one will fault you for wearing the same sharp outfit each time you interview. If you desire some variety within a limited budget, you might consider varying your shirt/blouse/tie/accessories as a simple way to change your look without breaking your wallet.
For those of you who need a quick review of the basics, follow these guidelines for successful interview dress:
Men and Women
- Conservative two-piece business suit (solid dark blue or dark grey is best)
- Conservative long-sleeved shirt/blouse (white is best, light pastel is next best)
- Clean, polished conservative shoes
- Well-groomed hairstyle
- Clean, trimmed fingernails
- Minimal cologne or perfume
- Empty pockets—no bulges or tinkling coins
- No gum, candy, or cigarettes
- Portfolio case
- No visible body piercing (nose rings, eyebrow rings, etc.) or tattoos
- Necktie should be silk with a conservative pattern
- Dark shoes (black lace-ups are best)
- Dark socks (black is best)
- Get a haircut; short hair always fares best in interviews
- Fresh shave; mustaches are a possible negative, but if you must, make sure it is neat and trimmed
- If you are thinking of shaving your beard, now would be a good time to do it, since beards are rarely an interview positive; if you have one and decide to keep it, make sure it is neat and trimmed
- No rings other than wedding ring or college ring
- No earrings (if you normally wear them, take them out)
- Wear a suit with a jacket and skirt or slacks; no dresses
- Conservative neckline on shirt/blouse
- Shoes with conservative heels
- Conservative hosiery at or near skin color (and no runs!)
- No purses, small or large; carry a briefcase/messenger bag or portfolio instead
- If you wear nail polish, use a neutral, clear or a conservative color
- Keep your makeup simple and natural (it should not be too noticeable)
- No more than one ring on each hand
- One set of earrings only
If you are still not sure how to dress for the interview, call and ask! That's right—call the employer. But this is one time when you do not want to call the Hiring Manager—instead, ask to be put through to Human Resources and say:
"I have an interview with _____ in the _____ department for a position as an _____. Could you please tell me what would be appropriate dress for this interview?"
Sure, you run the risk of someone in HR thinking you are an interview neophyte, but that's a lot better than having the Hiring Manager distracted by inappropriate interview dress. While many work environments have shifted to business casual as the workday standard, business suits are still the interview standard. When in doubt, it is almost always better to err on the side of conservatism.
One final note on interview dress: while it goes without saying that your interview clothes should be neat and clean, very few interviewees give the same time and attention to their shoes. Shoes? Yes, shoes. Many have said that you can judge a person by their shoes, the theory being that those who pay attention to details like shoes are also likely to be diligent in their work life. You will find that ex-military officers (many of whom have found their way into management positions in corporate America) are especially aware of a person's shoes. It is not enough to be clean and pressed. Make sure your shoes are conservative, clean, and polished.
All Eyes Are on You
Your choice of eyewear can also be considered a part of your interview dress. Glasses or contacts? For those of you who have this choice available, consider it wisely. There are preconceived notions (as you are probably well aware) about wearing glasses. Specific potential positives include attention to detail, focus, and intelligence. Potential negatives include awkwardness, shyness, and lack of human interaction. While these stereotypical attributes are obviously just that—stereotypes—they are still extant in our society.
If you have the option of wearing contacts versus glasses, use the following as the guideline for which to wear:
- Contacts: people positions—consulting, sales, advertising, customer service, etc.
- Glasses: data/things positions—accounting, information systems, engineering, etc.
If you do choose to wear glasses, wear a pair with conservative frames. There is little you can do to change the stereotypes, but you should be aware of the potential positives and negatives and adjust accordingly.