What to Wear for an Interview

Getting a first job or internship is harder than it used to be. You’ve spent hours perfecting your resume and cover letter sending it out to the world. Now you finally have an interview lined up. But you get to the morning of, and you discover the one thing you didn’t think of: How do you dress for the job interview?

what to wear to an interviewBefore you have that sartorial meltdown, let me just assure you that with a few simple guidelines, you can be dressed for success at any internship or job interview.

I’ve been in the fashion industry for a couple decades and have rescued more than a few fashion emergencies. So, if it takes less than 30 seconds to make a first impression, then I can show you in less than five minutes how to make that impression a good one.

The New Rules of Interview Fashion

Maybe your personal stylist (okay, your mom) told you to always wear a suit and tie to an interview if you’re a guy, or a skirt suit and heels if you’re a girl. While that’s still generally pretty good advice, workplace fashion has become a lot more casual in the past twenty years. Not all industries require or even give you bonus points for showing up in your Sunday best.

So here’s the new rule of thumb:

Research the company ahead of time, find out what people wear there, and target to dress a little better than that.

What’s a little better?

Let’s say you’re trying to land an internship or entry-level job at a creative or tech company, where typically you’ll want to go more casual. Even if everyone working there wears jeans and t-shirts, that doesn’t mean you should show up like that for your interview.

Instead, if you’re a guy, you might try a gingham or patterned shirt and a nice pair of slacks. For the girls, you have more options, but my advice is to go with a pant suit. Just remember that although you want to show your personality, you don’t want to wear anything too bright. The guys might finish off the outfit with a pair of nice brown or black loafers, or for the girls some low- to mid-style heels in a classic color.

Also take your cues from the industry and location of your target company. If you’re interviewing in a professional environment like a financial firm on Wall Street, then you should definitely wear a suit. You’ll likely find that companies on the West Coast have more casual dress codes, but there are exceptions everywhere, so do your homework.

The Spectrum of Business Fashion

Think of your options as a spectrum from casual (e.g. jeans and t-shirts) on one end to business casual (e.g. khakis and a polo), all the way to business professional (e.g. suit and tie) on the other end. If the company you’re applying to has a casual dress code, then step up your wardrobe to the next level.

Here’s a killer tip to help you easily move up or down the spectrum on the fly:

Always bring a jacket, or for the girls possibly a cardigan. The versatile blue or black blazer can go with just about any outfit and (bonus!): it’s easy to slip off and tuck away if you get the vibe once you’re at your interview that you’re overdressed. You can go from business casual to casual without breaking a sweat.

How to Research Dress Codes

Okay, so I’ve told you to research the company’s dress code, but you may be thinking at this point:

Where do I look?

As much as possible, I suggest getting it directly from the source—the company itself.  So if you’re interviewing for a job through a recruiter, ask! He or she will likely be happy to give you some pointers based on company norms and possibly even the expectations of the people who will be interviewing you.

Also check the company’s website. They may have a published dress code (score!), or, barring that, photos of employees that can clue you into the appropriate attire for your interview.

Beyond that, many sites such as Glassdoor have pictures and reviews of companies that may give you some additional leads. Also don’t forget your network—it may be that someone either currently at the company or who previously worked there can give you some insider advice.

Ten Quick Tips for Interview Fashion Success

And finally a few last fashion pointers before you head out the door:

  • Start with the basics: Wear something clean, i.e. you’ve washed it since the last time you wore it.
  • The best interview colors to wear are black, grey, or navy. White or khaki are generally considered more casual.
  • Wear polished shoes (no scuffs!) in either black or brown.
  • For the guys, make sure you’re cleanly shaven. Or if you have facial hair, make sure it’s well-groomed.
  • Also, men, if you’re wearing a tie with a patterned shirt, go with a solid color for the tie so you don’t clash.
  • Keep accessories like jewelry to a minimum. Lose any nose or tongue rings before you walk into the interview.
  • Don’t forget that your appearance is more than just how you look. I always tell people not to eat right before an interview because you don’t want to have bad breath or something green stuck in your teeth.
  • Don’t wear anything baggy or too tight.  Make sure your clothes look good on you. So if you’re borrowing a jacket or outfit from a friend, try it on before it’s too late to change the morning of the interview.
  • Don’t wear something skimpy or that you would wear when you’re going out with friends. In general, I advise that anything that exposes your full bare arms is too casual for an interview.
  • When you’re not sure what to wear, use your judgment. If you don’t think the environment calls for a suit, wear a pair of dark pants and a sweater or button-down shirt.

You’re Ready to Nail That Interview

Your appearance plays an important part in making a good impression and ultimately the hiring decision.  But now you know that you don’t have to be a fashionista to look good for an internship or job interview.

Although there are different dress styles for different jobs, you want to be taken seriously. And what you wear tells a lot about you. Usually an interviewer expects you to dress like you care about the job. Wear something you’re comfortable in, yet is your go-to power look.

It may even be helpful to make a checklist so that you don’t panic on the day of the interview: hair, makeup, teeth, shoes, etc. Just don’t forget to add one final checklist item:

Get the job!