June 29, 2009

What to Wear to Your Interview

I often get asked what is considered appropriate attire for the job interview. The confusion comes from the fact that these days many companies employ a "business casual" or even casual policy in the workplace. The fear is that hiring managers and recruiters will think the candidate "too stuffy" or "not a fit" due to their dress. Nothing can be further from the truth.

In the CNN article "What Not to Wear to Work," Marianne Hancock from the PR firm Golin Harris says:

"Our office is pretty casual and is a creative setting, but an interviewee wouldn't know that coming in. I expect business attire, preferably a suit. I want the interviewee to look like they mean business and are mature enough to handle a fast-paced workplace."

So what are you to do if you don't know the company culture or the hiring manager's expectation? Here's an easy tip. Come dressed up in a full suit. For men this would include the tie. For women this could be a skirt or pants with a button up shirt and blazer or a tailored suit. Then, arrive 20-30 minutes early to the interview, but don't go in yet. Just watch what the employees wear from a safe vantage point. I would recommend the following:

  • If you notice employees are wearing mostly professional or "business casual" dress, (i.e. you are not seeing jeans) then, go in with the full suit.
  • If you see jeans, but worn in a polished, professional way as in jeans with blazers, nice vests, etc., then, men might opt to skip the tie for a more business casual look. I would still recommend that women go in with the full suit, but opt for more casual accessories like flats instead of heels, etc. You could also roll up your blazer's sleeves to your elbow or swap the blazer for a cardigan for a stylish, more laid back look.
  • If you see jeans, graphic t-shirts, sneakers, and any other extremely casual attire, then, both men and women can skip the blazers altogether. Men, you may decide to keep the tie unless you feel it will still be too "stuffy" looking. Women can add fun accessories to their pants/skirts and button-up shirts like scarfs, funky jewelry or shoes.
Keep in mind that dark colored suits or separates are more conservative than light colors. Bottom line: You will need to plan ahead and have some "quick swap" items in your bag or car, so that you can better match the company's culture. In the end, it really doesn't hurt to be overdressed. However, it can really hurt you if you underdress, so I leave you with the following thought from Ms. Hancock.

"If [you] don't wear the best business attire to an interview, it makes me wonder if [you] really want the job. It is hard to take someone seriously wearing flip flops, a butterfly sweater set and a white puffy skirt."

I couldn't agree more.


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