Congratulations! Your months of hard work have paid off, and you finally have a job interview. What’s that? You don’t know what to wear? Well, I think I can help with that. Job interviews are tough, and you want to put your best foot forward; remember, first impressions are formed within seconds, and this is your chance to really impress the interviewer, even before you introduce yourself. There are a few things that you need to consider, but if you follow this guide and still don’t get the job, it probably won’t be because of your appearance.
Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
But first, just how much does your attire affect your chances?
The appropriate attire for every white collar job is a suit. If you show up to the interview in anything less than a suit, then the person interviewing you is going to think any of the following: that you have no idea what is appropriate attire; that you are not serious about the process; that you are not professional; and, at the extreme, that you are being disrespectful. That’s not to say that they aren’t going to hire you, just that your interview skills will have to be pretty good to fight past a negative first impression.
On the other hand, opinions are divided on what is the appropriate attire for a blue collar job interview. Some, like myself, argue that the best attire is still a suit; but others feel that wearing a suit to a blue collar job interview is overly formal, or, at worst, pretentious. The same applies to those professionals who try to emulate the ‘business casual’ workplace attire of those like Mark Zuckerberg. Although the former may have some legitimate reasoning, the latter have no sense of appropriate business attire. In either case, it is best to do some research on the company to determine what they would deem the appropriate attire.
A week before your interview, get a haircut. This will give the appearance of being well groomed, and allow the haircut to settle in (although, you should be getting a haircut often enough that no one notices the difference). Facial hair should be kept to an absolute minimum, so make sure to shave the morning of the interview (avoiding razor burn and cuts). If you insist on keeping a beard, make sure that it is neat and trimmed. If you use some sort of hair product, make sure not to overdo it. Most people have the tendency to apply more product than they need when they are nervous and trying to make their hair perfect; this will just overwork your hair, and then it will look terrible. Remember, you can always add more; taking it away will likely require another shower.
Keep your jewellery to a minimum; a simple watch, cuff links, and a tie clip are all you really need, and the last two are optional. If you have visible piercings, remove them. Make sure you watch is something simple; a black leather (to match your shoes) or metal band, with a understated face; no flashy jewels embedded in the watch. You should be carrying two pens; one in your jacket pocket, and a backup in your briefcase. Also in your briefcase should be a notepad, business cards, and your mobile phone. Storing your mobile in your briefcase will free your pockets of clutter, and ensures that you aren’t tempted to start texting during the interview (you’d be surprised how often that happens). If you have one, a tablet pc of some kind is also an option.
Stick with plain black, highly shined Oxfords when you are wearing a suit. If you are feeling daring, a pair of quarter-brogues will also work. No slip-ons of any sort, and avoid brown; slip-ons are fine for business casual, and brown should be fine when you have the job, but neither are ideal for a job interview. If you need instructions on how to shine your shoes, I have an article for that here.
The best options for an interview suit are Charcoal Grey, or Navy Blue, with two buttons, and notch lapels. Charcoal is a darker and more serious colour, while the colour blue represents knowledge, and can make a man look younger.
As a general guide, your suit should have the following characteristics:
- Charcoal, Grey, or Navy
- Solid worsted wool fabric (no pinstripes or checks)
- Double vent
- Two buttons
- Flap pockets
- Peak Lapel
- Medium break in the trousers
- Pleats if necessary
- No cuffs on the trousers
Below are some examples of suits that are perfect for interviews:
If you are looking for a more in-depth guide, check out my article on buying your first suit.
The Casual Interview
Slightly More Casual Than a Suit: A sport jacket and dress trousers, with a button down shirt and tie. For a more relaxed look, remove the tie. Make sure to keep the colours conservative; this is still an interview, and you still want to present a professional appearance. At the most casual end of this look, a pair of chinos will work well.
More Casual: Lose the the jacket, and put on a nice sweater. This will work better with a tie to contrast with the less formal nature of the outfit.
The Most Casual: The most casual outfit that I would recommend is a well fitted button down shirt, and dress trousers or, at the extreme, chinos. As I’ve said before, I don’t think you should wear a tie without a jacket (or sweater), but if you really want to, then go for it, but add a tie clip to keep things neat.
People often confuse casual with sloppy; you are still trying to present a professional image, just a less formal one. Make sure all your clothes fit you properly, and are clean and pressed. When in doubt, look in the mirror and ask yourself “Would I hire me if I looked like this?”; if the answer is “no”, then maybe a change of clothes is in order.
The two best (and really, only) options for your shirt colour are white, and light blue. Solids are the best option, but a small and subtle pattern can also work well.
Wear french cuffs at your own discretion, and try and avoid button-down collars. While button-down collars are a business staple in the U.S, they are traditionally a more casual, sporty look, and you would be better off without them for an interview. (Shirts pictured are by Brooks Brothers)
Stick with darker, more conservative colours for your tie. Red is an excellent colour for an interview tie, as is navy blue. Red is the colour of passion and confidence; two things which a potential staff member should have, while blue is the colour of loyalty, authority, and knowledge; also characteristics that may describe the perfect applicant. As with shirts, stick with solids and subtle patterns. Below are some examples of ties that would work well for a job interview (images from www.ties-necktie.com).
Putting it all together
My go-to interview attire is a navy suit, red tie, and white shirt. Theoretically, the colours represent the idea that I am passionate, knowledgeable, powerful, and confident; practically, the contrast between the colours creates a visually striking and memorable image, one that is often referred to as the ‘power look’, demonstrated here by US President Obama:
Whatever you wear, make sure that you are comfortable in it, and that you look professional, because if you aren’t comfortable people will be able to tell; and you are going to be nervous enough already, why add to your stress? Look the best that you can, so that you have one less thing to worry about during the interview; and remember, even if there are a dozen other applicants lined up for an interview, sometimes you don’t have to be better than your competition, you just have to dress better.