What should I wear to a job interview?

Making a good first impression

You’ve got this far. Your application was accepted, you’ve (hopefully) done your research and now it’s time for the big day: the interview. You’ve probably already Googled a lot of advice that exists out there for people who are nervous about what they should say, how they should act and ultimately what they should do to nail the Q&A part, but have you prepared well enough and done your research for another key part of the interview? A big question that eager candidates often forget until the last minute - what should I wear?

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question (just the answer you were hoping for, we're sure). Complicated and confusing micro-cultures often exist within business and each with their own specific - and frequently unspoken - sets of rules and guidelines on how people should present themselves. These business specific guidelines can be difficult to get your head around if you haven't already worked in that environment. There are, however, some surefire rules that exist across industries and whilst they won’t guarantee you the job, they’ll help to ensure the interviewers don’t decide “no” without hearing what you have to say.

Should I go in business dress for an interview?

Three questions to ask when dressing for an interview:

Do I look presentable?

Regardless of what you decide to wear, there’s one rule that is non-negotiable and sometimes people fail to follow: make sure you look fresh and clean. This means things like showering before you come to the interview, not wearing powerful perfume or aftershave and making sure your clothes are washed and ironed.

We all want to smell nice but be sensible - you’re likely going to be in a small room and you don’t suffocate your interviewers with a fragrance so go for something a little more subtle.

You only get one first impression. If you look the part your potential employers will be more likely to see you as the right candidate for the job.

Does it fit?

A suit is a nice, safe bet for men and women for almost any interview, in almost any industry, at almost any level - but it’s not your only option. If you don’t own a suit and it’s too late or money's too tight to splash out on one consider an ironed shirt and trousers. Something smart that fits will always be better than borrowing a suit from somebody who wears a bigger size than you (you'll likely look like a 15 year old who has borrowed his dad’s suit) just as it will beat something that's too small. Unfortunately most of us don’t get to maintain the same waistline we had at 21 so if it’s too tight, don't wear it.

Getting dressed for an interview

The most important factor of wearing something that's professional and fits is that you'll feel more confident. If you wear something that's too big or too small you'll likely look unprofessional and uncomfortable which could lead to you fidgeting and pulling at your clothes. If you don’t have the “right” clothes, wear the closest thing you have that fits properly.

Have I done my research?

This is where it gets much more complicated. Different businesses, and even departments, have their own expectations of what people should wear to an interview so this is where you’ll need to have done your research. Once upon a time, the rules were much stricter and more straightforward - men should be clean shaven and wearing a suit and a tie, women should be in a skirt with a blouse and have hair and impossibly neat make-up. Today these rules have relaxed and when you’re deciding what to wear, you need to think about the role you’re applying for the culture of the business. Talk to people, look at the company website, and look at the job description.

Do they use words like ‘traditional’ and ‘historic’ throughout? Are there photographs of men in suits sat behind mahogany desks? If so, you’ll need to go the old-fashioned route and be thorough. This means facial hair gone or very neatly groomed, nails trimmed, hair styled (a natural colour) and shoes polished. We've heard stories of people being turned down for a job because they wore odd socks at the interview. Believe it or not, there are businesses that still exist today that explicitly require female employees to wear a full face of make-up, skirts and high heels and don’t allow men to have facial hair or enter the office without a jacket. If you want to work in this environment, you need to play by their rules.

What to wear in an interview

Fortunately most businesses don’t function like that anymore, employers are generally more approachable and most interviewers won’t mind if you phone up and ask what their dress code is and what their expectations are for interview. If you don’t want to ask, do your own bit of research. Find out some names of people from the company and see if they’re on LinkedIn and what they’re wearing in their pictures (although bear in mind that it's a professional website so it may not reflect their everyday working life). You can always Google the company and see if there’s recent photographs of employees in the office.

First Response's Expectations

At First Response, we encourage employees to dress how they feel comfortable for the day to day working environment. We find that most job candidates expect to wear business dress within a recruitment related situation, for that reason we recommend a business casual dress code for assessment days and interviews.

In any case, don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Summary

So remember: when preparing what to wear to a job interview:

    • ensure you're clean and smelling fresh
    • try your outfit on at least a day in advance
    • do your research and if you’re not sure: ask

The biggest thing they’ll take away from your appearance on the day is whether you look confident, so just take a deep breath and remember you wouldn’t have got this far if you can’t do the job. Good luck!

Follow us on LinkedIn

< Back to blog | Previous: How early should I arrive for an interview? >