What to wear to an Interview
You’ve heard the old adage, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. These are words to live by anytime you interview for a job. When you have only a few minutes to make a good impression, you have a slim margin for error. Deciding how you want to present yourself to your potential employer requires thought and planning. It’s not rocket science but it is an art. As young professionals with plenty of interview experience my colleague Lucas and I thought it would be helpful so walk you through the preparation process so you can feel confident going into any interview.
As a bit of a foreword, the options shown reflect the gender binary but are what we feel comfortable wearing. That said, you should not feel limited in terms of your options. We want you to feel confident going into your interview and hope you wear whatever best reflects your gender identify. Feel free to select a combination of pieces to create a look that feels right to you and take whatever advice from this post feels applicable.
Beginning with a high level look at interview preparation, it is easy to get caught up in thinking about what you’re going to wear, but in my opinion, that’s actually skipping a step. Start by practicing carrying yourself with care. The point of dressing well for an interview isn’t to “look good”. The point is to show your potential employer that you put thought and care into how you present yourself, which is the next best thing to showing them you put thought and care into your work. If you show up to your interview looking unsuitable for the occasion, an employer could question your judgement, your professionalism, and your fit for the job. When you make caring for your appearance a habit, it will feel natural come interview day.
Another reason to care for your personal maintenance before an interview is to minimize distractions. You don’t pull your hair back to show your potential employer that you’re skilled at top knots. You do it so you don’t play with your hair and so your interviewer doesn’t spend the entire interview distracted by that one piece of hair you can’t get out of your face. Bold makeup, strong cologne, and bright colours, although great for everyday, can draw attention away from what you’re saying. Think about what you want the interviewer to take away from meeting with you, and make all your decisions with a view to leaving that impression.
Always better to overdress
In deciding how “dressed-up” you need to be for an interview, think about what you’ll likely wear to work and then up the formality a step. Do some reconnaissance to find out what the workplace dress code is and what people working there wear. Your industry may also have norms for what to wear to an interview, so it is always good to seek advice from professionals in your industry. Lucas and I are both articling students and the expectation for law students is that you wear a suit for interviews, always. And when in doubt, it is ALWAYS better to be overdressed than underdressed. It shows your potential employer that you take the interview and your candidacy seriously.
I think a suit is always a safe bet for an interview and if you don’t have at least one in your wardrobe, it’s time to invest. This is an easy purchase to justify because you’ll likely get lots of wear out of the pieces both separately and together. Pant suit, skirt suit… doesn’t matter. As you can see from the photos there are lots of options. You don’t need to spend a lot to get a quality suit but this also isn’t the time to cheap out. I’m a big fan of Black Friday and end-of season shopping. You can get quality suits for a fraction of the price and you needn’t be afraid to buy online. Any reputable retailer will offer returns if the fit isn’t right and you can always tailor for the perfect fit. Which brings me to my next point…
Get thee to a tailor! And get thee there QUICK. In my opinion, nothing says amateur-hour like an ill-fitting suit. You will always look like you’re playing dress-up in your parent’s clothes if you’re wearing a suit that doesn’t fit you properly. And even if you buy something off the rack and it seems like it fits, to go a tailor anyway and spend a few dollars getting it custom fitted. The reason is, your body is different from every other body that SAME suit is sold to. Some things are meant to be worn right off the rack but a suit isn’t one of them. You want to wear the clothes, not have the clothes wear you. Make friends with your tailor. Promise me you’ll do it, ok?
As you can tell from the photos I live in the greyscale. My skin tone is neutral and doesn’t really pull warm or cool tones. I look good in black and gravitate to pieces accordingly. That said, some people think black is too severe for an interview. When it comes to the gents, I tend to agree. As you can see, Lucas went for navy in his first look and grey for his second. When deciding what colours you’re going to wear think about what you look good in and how bold a statement you want to make. Black, grey and navy are all safe but I’ve seen greens and browns pulled off successfully as well. Your shoes, belt and bag should all match and your shirt should fall subtly into the background. Feel free to get creative with your tie, pocket square, cufflinks and other accessories, but again, be wary of prints and colours so bold that they could become a distraction.
Having just touched on this I want to reiterate that your accessories should play a “supporting role” in the overall look but they are not “the star of the show”. This is not the time for leopard print pumps or your largest faced watch. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t express your personality through your outfit, but it is your personality that should shine in the end. You don’t want to risk detracting from that. This is also not the time to wear heels if you are not comfortable in them. Sometimes you have multiple interviews in a day and hobbling is not the look. Hide a pair of flats in your bag if you’re worried about your feet giving out half ay through the day. As a final note, I abide by the 15 degree rule when deciding whether to wear tights/pantyhose with my skirts and dresses. If its below 15, I wear them, if its warmer than 15 I go without. This is just my personal preference but do not, I repeat, do not forgo tights when the temperature hovers around freezing or there is snow on the ground. You just look stupid and unprepared for the weather.
This concludes our post (sermon) about what to wear to an interview. I trust you enjoyed our practical (and hopefully entertaining) advice on this topic. I acknowledge that interviews are tough which is why it’s great to have a concrete step to take which will increase your probability of success. Approach each experience with a positive attitude, even if things don’t go your way and never let anyone question your value.
What we’re wearing
Black dress is from Banana Republic and no longer in stock but a similar one can be found here
Grey skirt suit is from J. Crew
Black suit is from Banana Republic
Dress shirt is from Simons
Black pumps are Vince Camuto
Briefcase is McKlein USA