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What to wear for different job interviews based on the company

CareerBuilder | November 17, 2021

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.

You have done so much work.

You have taken the gargantuan step of deciding to find a new job.

You have scoured job boards for the perfect position, compared average salaries by both job title and location, and distilled all your professional experience — your skills, your certifications, your achievements — into a clean and crisp new resume.

You’ve even scored an interview. You have done so much work. But there’s one more thing you have to do:

You have to decide what to wear.

As if job interviews weren’t stressful enough, what with trying to remember the right things to say and all, you also have to think about your interview attire. 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.

That first impression with a hiring manager is everything. “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. A good interview outfit amps up your confidence going into the interview. If you feel comfortable on the outside, you'll feel comfortable on the inside.

Deciding what to wear, when

“Dress for the job you want.” We've all heard it, and it's generally good advice. But it’s also important to dress for the company you want to work at — which has gotten more complicated. Suits used to be the universal standard, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore.

“Lately it seems like the 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.”

Should you wear a button-down shirt? A T-shirt with a blazer for that hip creative gig? A pant suit for the executive position? Business formal? Business casual? What are those, anyway?

There are different guidelines for professional attire, so your best bet is to do your homework ahead of time. What's the standard dress code for the role you want? What's the company culture like?

Don't think that a video interview lets you off the hook. Even if you're interviewing from the comfort of your own home, you still need to stick to the office dress code.

6 tips for dressing for job interview success

Every company has a different definition of "appropriate workplace attire," so follow these quick tips to ensure you dress for success and make a great first impression.

Do your homework

Don’t know much about the company? Tranen suggests engaging in “a little light internet stalking” get a sense of the dress code. Research the company’s website, for example, to see if there are photos or videos of employees. Are they all clad in navy blazers, or is it a more casual workplace? Check out their social media, too. “This can give you insight into the company's overall vibe,” Tranen says. “Model yourself accordingly.”

Overdressing is better than underdressing

“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. Don't show up in wrinkled, stained, ripped or ill-fitting clothing. Comb or brush your hair, and check to make sure none of this morning's spinach omelet ended up in your teeth. If you have a pet, get yourself a lint roller so you don't show up wearing your cat's coat. And keep a small grooming kit with you for any last-minute touch-ups.

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” bright colors and patterns. “Let your awesomeness speak for itself through the answers you give throughout the interview.” That doesn’t mean you have to dress exclusively in boring, neutral colors, though. Your best option is to add just a dash of your own personality to your professional look — subtle accessories, that nice blouse you got for your birthday, anything with a good fit that won't look too out of place in a given work environment. 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 — please, please wear 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. Ask a friend or family member to help vet your look. “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,” Tranen says.

Decoding dress codes

Sometimes even asking about the dress code or reading the official company dress code policy 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 in a workplace that prefers formal business attire.

Business casual:

Forget the suit when you interview 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 dress, 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. Make sure your clothes are a great fit. Choosing the right outfit is all about the details.

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