Ever found yourself rummaging through your closet in a panic hours before an important job interview? Or spent way too much time puzzling over whether to go with high heels or flats, a jacket or sweater? Choosing the perfect outfit for a job interview doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Here are a few simple tips for picking out appropriate interview attire from those who know what will get you the results you're after.
1. ERR ON THE SIDE OF FORMALITY.
A lot of people worry unnecessarily about looking too formal at their job interview, but if you’re applying for a retail or office position—and not, say, a job as a surf instructor—it’s unlikely you’ll be perceived as overly professional.
“There’s a big difference between casual and professional attire,” explains Wendy Wilkins, Worldwide Central Director of Dress For Success, a non-profit organization that provides women with professional support and work attire. “And there’s a difference between matching a pair of pants with a top, and wearing a suit where the top and bottom are made of the same material and really go together. By all means, go into your interview in a real suit.”
Sarah Stambouli, career coach and head of Stambouli Consulting, and Wilkins agree that wearing a suit isn’t always required, but both say it’s always a safe choice. And it’s an easy choice for anyone who’s struggling to put together a professional-looking outfit. For example, Wilkins explains that a nice dress and blazer are also an appropriate choice for women, but that it can sometimes be difficult to gauge whether a dress is professional enough. If you’re worried about looking professional, she says, just go with a suit. “There’s something out there now for everyone’s price point,” says Wilkins. “You have a whole line of Discount stores where you can get a nice suit at a great price.”
2. LESS IS MORE.
“In general, you don’t want to wear anything overstated or distracting that could potentially take attention away from the conversation,” Wilkins explains. “You want your personality to shine out more than your clothing.” For example, Wilkins recommends against wearing dangling bracelets or earrings, and instead suggests choosing simple, understated jewelry. “I wouldn’t even wear a strong perfume,” says Wilkins. “You don’t want your interviewer to smell you before they see you. Plus, some people may have allergies, so it’s important to be conscious of that.”
3. LOOK THE PART.
“The more you know about the company or industry you’re interviewing with the better,” says Wilkins. “A banking or law firm has a completely different look than a retail store.” For anyone applying for retail positions, Wilkins recommends actually visiting the store in advance of the interview to see what people are wearing. For office jobs, you can check out pictures on the company’s website or Facebook page.
When it comes to interview attire, the differences in outfit choices can be subtle. “If I know a woman is applying for a retail position at a store like Macy’s or Victoria’s Secret, I know she should wear a black suit and a pink or white blouse,” says Wilkins. “If you’re applying for an office position, I’d still suggest a suit, but you can play with the colors a little more, and go for black, grey, or blue. And if you’re entering an artsy field, you can get a little creative. But not too creative.”
“It also matters a little bit how old you are and how old your potential employer is,” says Stambouli. “If you’re being interviewed at a start-up by a pretty young person, I would say that a modern cut suit without a tie is a pretty safe bet for a man. But if it’s a really stodgy law firm or you know your interviewer will be older, you might dress more formally.”
4. DETAILS COUNT.
It’s more important to go into your interview looking neat and organized than it is to show up in an expensive suit or the latest fashions (unless you’re working in the fashion industry, of course). Make sure your outfit is clean and unwrinkled, and double-check that your materials are in order. “It sounds so obvious, but you have to turn off your phone. Not even vibrating. No gum. I know it sounds ridiculous but people do it,” says Stambouli. “And, by all means, clean your glasses. If you have dirty glasses, people notice it.”
5. INVEST IN A NICE PAIR OF SHOES.
It doesn’t matter so much what kind of shoes you choose to wear, as long as they’re professional. Think loafers and Oxfords instead of sneakers and darker colors instead of bright colors or complicated patterns. “With shoes, it comes down to personal style,” says Wilkins. “Women can wear flats or heels. The most important thing is choosing shoes you feel comfortable walking in. If you’re not comfortable walking in heels, I wouldn’t suggest wearing them to a job interview.” When in doubt, she adds, “Look at Michelle Obama. I think she’s shown people how to dress professionally without wearing five or six inch heels.”
6. THE SEASON MAKES A DIFFERENCE.
Traditional interview attire—pants, long sleeve shirts, and blazers—are comfortable winter wear, but can start to feel a little oppressive in the warmer months. Fortunately, most employers understand that, and won’t expect you to wear a full suit and jacket on really hot summer days. “Season matters,” says Stambouli. “If it’s summer, you can get a little more casual. Women can pull off nice open-toed shoes, and, if it’s a hundred degrees out and a guy looks really sharp, he doesn’t necessarily need to wear a jacket. It should look like he might’ve had a jacket on, but just doesn’t have it with him.”
7. TAKE YOUR TIME.
It’s important to be well groomed, overall. If you pick out the perfect suit, but don’t spend any time on your hair or makeup, you’ll still end up looking a little messy. “It doesn’t matter so much what hair style you choose, as long as it’s neat and well groomed,” says Wilkins. “You can let your personality shine through a bit, but take the time to present the neatest, most professional version of yourself.”
“Give yourself an extra hour when you’re getting ready, and really take your time,” says Stambouli. “It just takes a bit longer to get ready for an interview, and you don’t want to rush yourself.”
8. COMFORT AND CONFIDENCE ARE KEY.
When it comes to picking your interview outfit, it’s important to trust yourself. While looking professional is essential and reflecting company culture is a good idea, ultimately your interview outfit should be one you feel confident in. “We all have an outfit that we just feel good in,” says Wilkins. “Choose an outfit you feel confident and comfortable in. When you put it on, you’ll know.”