Stylish at Work

8 Tips for What to Wear to a Job Interview

Career Advice, CareerSanam Khamneipur SmithComment

Recently, a couple of people I know were looking for new jobs, and our talk turned to what to wear to their interviews. So I thought I’d share eight of my tried and true tips for what to wear when interviewing for work.

It used to be that interview attire was a no-brainer. You just threw on a black pant-suit or skirt-suit, and called it a day. Well those days are over. Although I wouldn't throw out the black suit option for an interview altogether, at least just yet, I would put a lot more thought into what you plan to wear. First thing to note, is that in this case, it's actually not all about being as stylish as possible.

Because of the complexity of the work world, the greater diversity of office cultures that abound, and the competition in the job market these days, it takes more thought and effort than ever before, to figure out what to wear to a job interview.

       1. As a starting point determine the industry within which you're job searching, and the general category that the office work environment and thus attire, falls into.

Industries such as finance, law, and medicine tend to be more conservative, while more creative fields like advertising, entertainment, technology and fashion, can be more casual or fashion-forward. Determine where on the conservative-to-casual spectrum the company you are interviewing with falls, then follow the guidelines below.

For the super conservative work environment, wear a suit (whether pant, dress, or skirt-suit) in a dark color like black, navy or dark grey, along with a similarly neutral colored shirt, for example white or blue.

For an industry that is traditional but not super conservative, I’d recommend a suit, but take a bit more liberty with the color. You could go for a lighter neutral, for example a light grey color (like the dress suite I wore here, or the pant suit I wore here), or go for a stylish take on a darker hues, like burgundy (for example the suit pictured here), while still keeping your other pieces, like a shirt, somewhat neutral.

One thing to add is about the cut and style of your suit. Figure out whether a more fashion-forward pant or blazer style would be appropriate wherever you're interviewing. The tapered Theory pant I'm wearing in the photos above, wouldn't necessarily be a fit for an interview in every work environment, but a straight legged version of the pant could be. The less conservative the company, the more variety and liberty you can take.

       2. Do some more digging on the company. Do research to figure out what their unique work culture is. This will not only help you position yourself as a good fit for the company during the actual interview, but also help you determine what to wear.

A friend recently shared about an upcoming interview at a “fashion-forward company, with a business casual environment.” What the heck does that mean for the job interview?! That’s exactly what my friend was wondering! That’s why it’s important to do further research on not only the company, but also the person or people you’re interviewing with - even try Google image! If every photo of every employee shows them in jeans and flip flops, well you definitely don’t want to show up in a suit. A final strategy, is to see if you know anyone who works at the company, and ask them to shed some light on the best interview attire. Most of the time though, it should be obvious from the industry and company research you’ve already done, what kind of company you’re interviewing with and what type of outfit is most appropriate.

       3. Wear plain colors and dress conservatively. Avoid eye popping prints or patterns; it’s your safest best. The goal of your interview is to send the message that you’re professional and smart, and that you’d be a good fit for the company you’re interviewing with. Any colors, patterns or designs that make you stand out too much, run the risk of ruining that message. You want to be remembered for your skills and experience, what you say in the interview, and what you’ve done in your professional career - not for the stylish fuschia front bow-blouse you wore to the interview.

       4. Keep your shoes and bag simple - Wear close toed heels. If possible, wear shoes and bags in neutral colors like black, grey, tan or beige, and of course in coordination with your outfit. Also, unless you’re interview for a position in fashion, or where you want to send the message that you’re a stylish luxury goods kind of gal, leave the brand name bag at home. Finally, make sure to match your bag and shoe color, or at least the shoe and bag tone.

       5. Leave the statement jewelry at home. To be on the safe side, go light on the accessories. A piece that you think is fabulous might seem like a flop to an interviewee, and this isn’t the time to take that risk.

       6. Decide what you feel confident and great in, and wear that, within the guidelines of appropriate interview-wear. It almost goes without saying, but don’t wear anything that’s too small, too tight, too short, or just not quite right on you. If you’re uncomfortable in your clothes, it’ll show.

       7. Avoid any of the "don'ts" of dressing for work (for example, jeans, flip flops, torn anything, tops that are too revealing or skirts/dresses that are too short). For my general tips on work wear, read my post on the Do’s and Dont’s of Dressing for Work. Exceptions can include fashion or retail companies, or even technology start-ups where jeans are de-rigeur. Rule #2 above applies.

       8. Keep hair, makeup and nails on the sideline, not the main feature. For hair, stick with something simple whether you wear your hair down for the interview, half-up-half down, or up altogether. For nails, make sure they look polished, clean and neat, whether they’re manicured with polish or not. If you’re going with a manicure, choose a  a neutral color like a nude, light pink or even off-white tone. A fresh coat of clear polish is fine too, or you can even keep your nails bare, just make sure they are neatly trimmed, with no chipped polish, hangnails, or dry cuticles in sight.

I was once on a hiring team where the most senior person on the committee explicitly said she wanted to hire someone because his super neatly manicured nails showed that he was extra organized. We didn’t end up hiring that person, but the detail didn’t go unnoticed. On the flipside, a different candidate interviewed for that same job and had a badly chipped manicure. Another member of our hiring team couldn't help but notice and mentioned it to me afterwards. These details matter, so make sure you get them right.

For make up, trend on the conservative side, meaning no blue mascara, heavy duty eyeshadow, or funky colors of lipstick. Less will be more, and more natural looking make up will allow the interviewer to truly focus on you, your experience and professional background, and to see what you have to offer as a candidate.

Hope these tips are helpful as you go down the path of interviewing and finding a job you love! Feel free to comment with any questions!