What To Wear For A Job Interview

Professional Dress_Suit

[Photo shot by Kelley B.]

Preparing for an interview can be stressful. Are you ready? What will the interviewer ask? What if the other candidates are more qualified? So many questions running through your head. And for a good reason – this could be your next job…your well being (at least when it comes to finances) could depend on this! Scary!

While “freaking out” isn’t recommended, being prepared is. Especially when it comes to what you wear. As the saying goes, “You never get a second chance at a first impression”. For this reason you should always look polished and professional. Ideally, you should wear a suit but depending on the type of work you are doing, business professional attire should do. (For example, someone going on an interview for an Executive Assistant role should certainly wear a suit versus someone interviewing to work at a fast food chain probably won’t have to worry about the suit so much.) Though I will say, when in doubt – go with the suit. I was recently helping a young lady prepare for an interview for an office clerk position. I selected a few suits for her to try on. She asked “do I really have to wear a suit?”. My response was “you probably could get away with business professional attire [like a blouse and slacks] but you want to stand out, right?”. Remember, you want to stand out from the competition so overdressed is always better than underdressed.  And it certainly will make you stand out in a sea of ordinary button downs and creased pants.

Note: Much of the information in this post is catered toward women (because I’m more of an expert in that area 😉 ) but I’ve included a few pointers for the men here and there. Also, some tips easily apply to both parties.

If you take away nothing else, please just take pride and care in your appearance. I’ve interviewed both sexes and while I don’t remember all of their responses or qualifications, I can still remember to this day who presented themselves well and who did not.

Below are a few common questions and answers about interview attire.

So what type of suit should I wear?

I’ve heard that dark is usually best for an interview: black, navy blue, or grey. That’s what I’ve always worn and also what I would highly recommend. The suit in the picture is my real, live suit that I wear on interviews. Not just for modeling cred. 🙂

What should I do if I don’t have the money for a suit?

I’d say attempt to find an affordable suit first. Don’t rule out the idea just because what you saw at the department store was too pricey. Try bargain stores like Ross or TJ Maxx. Even a local thrift store may have something high quality yet affordable. A good suit is always a great investment.

But let’s say even those options don’t suit (no pun intended) your budget. Non profits like Dress For Success partner with work force agencies to provide high quality, professional clothing to women at no cost. (Note that this is by referral only. Research the webpage for more detailed information.) Similar organizations such as this one exist for men.

Another option is to use what’s possibly already in your closet. (Or a friends…hint, hint 😉 ) Do you have a black blazer? Black or grey slacks? You can always pair dark separates to create your own suit. Note, avoid patterned blazers or bottoms (pants or skirt) – stick with the solids. Be careful with pairing black on black. Sometimes one black separate will be faded while the other piece is a newer, jet black. A little off is okay but use your best judgment on what looks best.

For skirts, watch the length and be sure it’s not too tight fitting. Need a test? Try sitting down in the skirt and that should confirm whether it will work or not. In addition, be sure to wear stockings with your skirt, particularly for the more conservative employers.

Okay, I have the suit. Now what about the top?

Button downs are always pretty classic. But a pullover blouse could work just as well with a simple, classy necklace. For women, just make sure there is no cleavage showing or gaps between the buttons (example). Solids are safe but if you decide to go with a pattern, choose something on the simpler side that will look clean cut with your suit.

What type of shoes should I wear?

Solid for sure. Avoid patterns in this category. Stick with a darker color that goes with the suit. Lime green heels probably won’t make such a great impression for an interview. Also, keep the heel height low. No platforms or stilettos for the interview. Flats are okay as long as your pants don’t drag over them.

Can I wear accessories? If so, what type?

If you haven’t noticed yet, the overall theme here is simple but classy. So don’t go too over the top with your accessories. A simple necklace to compliment your shirt will do. A pair of studs or smaller earrings are good. It’s probably best to stay away from big hoops or statement pieces. Watches are always nice because in addition to looking clean cut, you’ll be able to check the time without having to whip out your cell. (Particularly when you’re in a waiting area prior to the interview.)

What about the other details – hair, nails, makeup, perfume?

For hair, stick with something neat and clean cut. I think a low bun is pretty classic. Yes, it may look a bit old school (*grins*) but it’s not as distracting as many other styles could be. The attention is on your face so the interviewer can focus on your answers to the questions. Some other great styles could be a ponytail or down in a neat style.

Your nails should be clean and kept up as well. No heavily chipped polish or varying nail lengths. You don’t have to spend money at the nail shop on a manicure (unless you’re able to) but your nails should be “manicured”. Meaning that even on the most basic level, do a quick cut down and file or basic polish yourself. When it comes to polish, neutral and more muted tones are best. Save the loud colors for once you get the job (given that it’s not outside of any company policies).

For makeup and perfume – take it easy on both. If either is overdone, the interviewer will spend the whole time staring at your face art or sneezing from your perfume than actually getting to know you in consideration for the job.

This all sounds like it applies to a conservative, traditional job. What if I’m applying for something more informal or creative that requires different attire?

Check out this You Tube video. The images presented give a good variety of examples for many types of jobs.

So what about the guys? What do we wear?

The simple and clean cut theme applies to the fellas as well. A nice suit, a crisp shirt and modest tie (skip the neon zebra print one). If not the full suit, then a shirt, tie and slacks should do. Neatly kept facial hair is important too. No grizzly bear facial hair for the interview!


Got an interview coming up? Good luck! Got questions for me on something I didn’t cover here – please don’t hesitate to ask below! Also, feel free to comment on any interview attire tips that have helped you to land the gig.

Professional Dress_Suit_2

Outfit details: Suit (Calvin Klein from Macys); Shirt (New York and Company); Shoes (Nine West-similar); Purse (Aldo; similar); Bangle (Francescas); Necklace (New York and Company-similar)



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