Outside of first dates, there’s nothing that can throw us into a fashion frenzy quicker than deciding what to wear to a job interview. It can be a challenge to guess what your interviewer is going to be wearing, what the dress code is, and how much you should gussy up to show you’re serious, or dress down to show that you’re a good cultural fit for the workplace. There’s not much in the way of exact laws governing how to dress, and you’re already going to be uncomfortable and a little anxious walking in, which can be compounded if you also look and feel out of place.
Scientific studies have shown that human beings make a determination about another person in a span of scant seconds, which means first impressions can end up costing you the ballgame. Though there’s no guaranteed formula for success, these 16 style fundamentals can get you on track to show yourself off.
Learn the Game
You should know as much about the company as possible before you ever walk through the door. If you can do a tour, or walk in as a potential customer, do so. Not only will this give you a chance to learn how their operation is run, but you can see what the average employee, and the average manager, is wearing. That will help guide your clothing choices.
Play the Part
You want the interviewer to be able to visualize you fitting in with the team, and that means looking a little like everyone else. Be true to your sense of style on your own time. When you’re working, show up to play and fit in with your coworkers. You aren’t your clothes and your personality is going to shine through, but they’ll never see it if on first blush you’re trying to be the most ironic person ever to don a bowling shirt.
Always Be Pressed
There are job interviews where you’re better off showing up in a pair of jeans. Many startups and smaller operations prefer to go casual at all times to foster creativity. However, being casual or business casual doesn’t mean being sloppy. If you are wearing jeans, have them free of wrinkles, and aim for a cuff at the bottom with a sharp crease. Steam or iron your shirt and any jacket you intend on wearing in. A rumpled interviewer is both seen as disrespectful and sloppy, which indicates the kind of worker they will be.
An airplane mechanic might spend all day in greasy coveralls, but they wouldn’t go to the interview that way. You should dress a notch or two above the station you want, just to show you’re capable of doing it. Smart companies hire employees based on where they can go, not where they’re going to start. Show you’re a grunt, and even if you get the job, that’s all you’ll ever be. Prove they can make more out of you, and you’re more likely to be seen as a long-term asset.
Use a Jacket
A nice blazer, sport coat, or jacket is the ultimate interview accessory, since it shows you’re taking an extra step. You can dress it up to a full double-breasted suit, or go down to a polo and twill pants. A matching jacket is a must, if for not other reason than it can hide any nervous sweat.
Keep It Conservative
The word “conservative” can throw a lot of people off, but this doesn’t have anything to do with your politics. Dressing conservatively means keeping skirts below the knee, keeping heel size down, and avoiding anything as casual as boat shoes, unless you’re sure that will go over well thanks to your research. Button-up shirts or blouses are a must, and a tie should be considered, if management makes the effort.
Dump the Mods
Many workplaces are fine with you having a faceful of studs, a nice nose piercing, gauged ears, or a few tats. However, at the interview, you should be showing that you’re willing to take these out or cover them up. When you are at work, you’re being paid to represent the company, not your own personal flair. Proving you’re content to defer to them, even if just for an hour, shows willingness to play with the team. Once you’ve proved yourself, then you can unveil the aggressive neck tattoo.
Tame the Mane
Getting a clean haircut before an interview is never a bad idea, as it smooths out any unruly locks and helps you have a nice template for style. If you’re fairly clean-cut already, ensure you give your flaxen waxen a serious brushing to keep it on lock. Avoid hairsprays and gels if you can, as a natural look tends to appeal to interviewers more. As much as your clothes, how you wear your hair is going to say who and what you are. The more staid the job – bank, law firm, doctor’s office, corporate headquarters – the more contained your hair should be. You can grow it out later.
Trim the Hedges
Guys, if you wear facial hair you need to have it spotless and kept under control. Pick a beard style and stick to it. If you have any weird artistic goatees, it might be a good time to shave it off. Remember: You can get it back later. Brush and comb that beard, then give it a bit of oil to keep it laying down.
Lose the Jewels
A tasteful string of pearls or basic chain around the neck is fine. Keep the medical bracelets on if need be. Put a wedding ring in place. A set of small earrings is passable for women. Beyond that, you shouldn’t be wearing bling, even if you’re trying to get a contract with a hip-hop label. Dazzle and shine tend to say one of two things to interviewers: High Maintenance or No Substance. Neither one is good.
The Right Fit
All of your clothes should fit you properly, no matter how casual or formal they are. Avoid baggy clothes, or anything that’s too tight. One says you’re unable to dress yourself, the other typically says you’re trying to slide by on your sex-appeal.
Your belt should match your shoes, and you should always have a belt, even if it’s threaded through a set of chinos. Your clothes should all look good together with complementary colors. Dress in the right shades for your skin tone and ensure you don’t clash.
Tone It Down
Every color you wear should be fairly muted at a job interview. Don’t go with big and bold colors, unless that’s exactly the kind of persona you plan on adopting. Stick to tranquil hues like powder blue, earth tones, gentle pastels, deep greens, and secondary coloration. Generally a lot of red, orange, yellow, or anything extremely splashy is going to add a level of clownishness to your appearance that makes it hard to take you seriously. Blacks, blues, or a nice gray and brown color combination usually lands well.
A little lotion or some essential oils aren’t a bad idea, but keep the scents to a minimum. Not only can it be distracting, but setting off an allergic reaction in your interviewer is a deadly start. This is why you want to keep hairspray and gels out of the picture, also. No one should smell you. Shower, plenty of neutral deodorant, and then mouthwash after a rigorous tooth brushing will keep the few odors they get minty fresh and inoffensive.
No sweatpants, pajama pants, T-shirts, or yoga pants. The one possible caveat is if you’re planning to be a personal trainer, but odds are good that you won’t be lifting during the interview, so keep it classy. Stow your comfortable clothes in a gym bag in the car if you think they’ll come into play.
Grin and Bear It
The one way to help yourself out is to smile like you’ve never been happier to be anywhere in your life. A lot of teeth is part of that first impression, and lighting up the room allows your personality to take center stage, making your clothes a moot point. Just make sure they don’t then get in your way.