What to wear for different job interviews based on the company

dressing for the job interview

Dressing right for the job interview is easier said than done. Here's how to decide what to wear and when.

As if job interviews weren’t stressful enough, what with trying to remember the right things to say and do, you also have to think about what you’re going to wear. After all, interviews are all about showing yourself in the best possible light, and your interview outfit is part of that, says Heather Tranen, founder of Schtick, which offers career coaching and personal branding.

“Showing up to an interview polished and dressed appropriately for the role you are interviewing for shows that you put effort into yourself and into understanding the organization's culture,” Tranen says. She adds that a good interview outfit can help with your confidence going into the interview. “If you feel great on the outside it will calm the inner crazy person shrieking insecurities inside your head.”

Deciding what to wear, when

You’ve likely heard the saying, “Dress for the job you want,” but it’s also important to dress for the company for which you want to work. While a suit used to be the universal standard, that’s not necessarily the case anymore.

“Lately it seems like hoodie culture of the Silicon Valley start-up world has replaced the boxy pantsuits of the Wall Street glory days,” Tranen says. “However, many industries still remain fairly traditional. While many companies are relaxing their dress codes, a lot of industries, such as finance and law, expect you to be on your suit A-game when you come in for an interview.”

Because there are no hard and fast rules anymore, your best bet is to do your homework ahead of time to figure out what the standard dress code would be for the role and company at which you're interviewing.

6 tips for dressing for job interview success

Because every company is different in what they consider appropriate workplace attire, here are some tips to ensure you dress for success every time.

  • Do your homework. Don’t know much about the company? Tranen suggests engaging in “a little light internet stalking” to find out what the dress code is. Go on the company’s website, for example, to see if there are photos and videos of employees. “This can give you insight into the company's overall vibe,” Tranen says. “Model yourself accordingly.” It’s also OK to ask a friend at the company, or seek out alumni from your college who may work there to gain insight.
  • Err on the side of overdressing. “A good rule of thumb is to dress one level above what folks at the company wear on a day-to-day basis. For example, if they are business casual then it's best to break out that suit collecting dust in the back of your closet,” Tranen says. (See “Decoding the dress code” below.)
  • Pay attention to details. Make sure you always look polished. In other words, don't show up in wrinkled, stained, ripped or ill-fitting clothing. Comb your hair, and check to make sure none of this morning's spinach omelet ended up in your teeth. Consider keeping a small grooming kit with you for any last-minute touch-ups you may need.
  • Keep it simple. You want the interviewer to focus on you, not your attire. “Avoid distracting an interviewer by embracing a simple approach to interview attire,” Tranen says. That means going easy on the jewelry, makeup, hair and clothing. Stay away from “outrageous” colors and patterns, as well as pieces that show off too much skin. “Let your awesomeness speak for itself through the answers you give throughout the interview.” That doesn’t mean you have to be boring, however. Tranen says investing in “a good, classic handbag or briefcase that can fit your interview materials comfortably…will make you feel both organized and stylish.”
  • Put the perfume away. Once you’ve showered, shaved and applied deodorant, avoid the urge to “bathe yourself in cologne or perfume,” Tranen says. She recalls interviewing a job candidate whose scent was so powerful, it nearly made her sick. “Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.” Again, you want to be remembered for your skills. Not your scent.
  • Have a dress rehearsal. Tranen recommends always trying on your interview clothes before the day of the interview to prevent any possible wardrobe malfunctions. “If things don't fit right anymore, if your go-to jacket is missing a button, or if the shirt you love is wrinkled, it gives you time to troubleshoot,” she says.

Decoding dress codes

Sometimes even asking about the dress code can still leave you confused. For instance, you might hear that a company is “business professional.” But what's the difference between that and business casual? Or if a company describes its dress code as “casual,” how do you know what’s too casual? Here's a cheat sheet to deciphering some of the most common office dress codes:

  • Business professional: In a business professional atmosphere, suits are the norm. Women might wear a skirt or pant suit with heels, while men may wear a blazer or suit jacket, button down shirt, suit pants, a tie and dress shoes.
  • Business casual: Forget the suit when interviewing at a business casual company. Men might opt to wear dress slacks or chinos, a button down or polo shirt, a belt and dress shoes. Women might consider wearing a conservative dress, or a blouse (or sweater) with a skirt or dress pants and dress shoes or boots.
  • Casual: When interviewing at a casual office, it's still important to look polished and professional. (Save the jeans and flip-flops for when you actually have the job.) Men might consider wearing a long-sleeved dress shirt, khaki pants a belt, and dress shoes. Women might wear a collared shirt with pants or a pencil skirt, or a work dress.

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