How to Dress for a Job Interview

What to Wear for for a Formal or Casual Interview

Women at job interview
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You know that it’s important to make a good first impression at a job interview and that your choice of interview attire is a big part of that. But dressing for job interviews is a lot more complicated than it used to be.

For example, let’s say you’re going to an interview at a company where no one ever wears a suit – not even the CEO. Should you still dress formally for the occasion, or will you look out of place? And if you do decide to go for a more casual look, how can you make sure that you still appear professional and respectful?

When in Doubt, Dress Up a Little

Dress codes vary. For example, a tech start-up in Silicon Valley might frown on someone who dresses too formally, while a Fortune 50 company on Madison Avenue might frown on someone who dresses too casually. It’s important to get a sense of the corporate culture before you head into the interview, to make sure that your attire is appropriate.

Different industries have different expectations of how candidates and employees should dress. The appropriate dress code can vary greatly depending on the company, industry, and location.

However, regardless of what everyone else at the company is wearing, it’s essential to take particular care with your appearance during a job interview. The candidate dressed in a suit and tie, or dress and heels, will usually make a much better impression than the candidate dressed in jeans and sneakers.

Learn more about what to wear for a corporate position and what to wear for a more laid-back casual position. In both cases, being well-groomed with clean, untattered clothes is always required. 

How to Dress for a Corporate Interview

If you’re going on a job interview at a company in a traditional industry, such as finance, banking, or insurance, you should opt for more formal corporate attire. In general, this means a suit and tie for men and a pantsuit or skirt and blouse for women.

Men's Interview Attire

The best interview outfits for men in the corporate world tend to be conservative. Men should always default to wearing a suit. All clothes should fit well and be free of stains.

Here are a few guidelines for men who are interviewing in corporate roles:

  • Suit in a solid color such as navy, black, or dark gray
  • Long-sleeved shirt that is white or color coordinated with the suit
  • Leather belt
  • Tie
  • Dark socks and conservative leather shoes
  • Little or no jewelry
  • Neat, professional hairstyle
  • Limited amount of aftershave
  • Neatly trimmed nails
  • Portfolio or briefcase

Women's Interview Attire

In general, interview fashion for women in corporate jobs is more complicated and varied than it is for men. The increased options make assembling an interview outfit a bit more challenging for women than for men. For instance, if you're wearing a dress or skirt, you need to decide if you should wear pantyhose or if bare legs are acceptable.

Women also need to consider interview accessories and choose an appropriate purse. The best interview bags are ones that are professional and large enough to fit a resume but aren't flashy.

Here are the fundamental building blocks of what women should wear to a professional interview:

  • Suit in navy, black, or dark gray
  • Suit skirt just below or above the knee
  • Coordinated blouse
  • Conservative shoes
  • Limited jewelry
  • No very large dangling earrings or arms full of bracelets
  • No jewelry is better than cheap jewelry
  • Professional hairstyle
  • Neutral-colored pantyhose
  • Light makeup and a limited amount of perfume
  • Clean, neatly manicured nails
  • Portfolio or briefcase

Gender-Neutral Interview Attire

If how you typically dress doesn’t conform to a traditional gender norm, your interview attire shouldn't have to either. The key, as with gender-specific attire, is to find clothing that is polished, professional, and a fit for the company you're interviewing with. Here's an overview of gender-neutral attire for interviews and work.

How to Dress for a More Casual Interview

When the workplace or the job is less formal, the dress code may be more relaxed. If you're not sure what to wear, it's fine to check with the person scheduling the interview. However, it's still important not to dress sloppily. Learn more about some casual options:

  • Business Casual: You can leave the suit at home, but don’t get out those jeans just yet. Business casual means no jeans, no sneakers, and no apparel that would be more appropriate for the gym or the club.
  • Startup Casual: Jeans may be OK for an interview at a startup, but make sure they’re clean and free from holes or ragged seams. You’re going for stylish, not sloppy – and it’s still a good idea to dress up a bit more than the folks who are already working there.
  • What to Wear When There's No Dress Code: Not sure what to wear? When there’s no real dress code, keep it professional and err toward business casual.

Tips for Making the Best Interview Impression

Take some time to prepare your interview outfit to be sure you're ready to make the best impression.

  • Well in advance of your interview, make sure you have appropriate interview attire, and everything fits correctly.
  • Get your clothes ready the night before, so you don't have to spend time getting them ready the day of the interview.
  • If your clothes are dry clean only, take them to the cleaners right after an interview, so you're prepared for the next interview.
  • Be sure to polish your shoes the night before.

What to Bring to the Interview

In addition to getting your interview attire ready the night before, also gather what you need to bring with you:

  • Interview location/directions
  • Contact name and number for the person you're meeting with
  • Identification
  • Notepad and pen
  • Extra copies of your resume
  • List of three references
  • Work samples (depending on the job)
  • Laptop or tablet to showcase your work (depending on the job)
  • Breath mints with you to use before entering the building

You can bring your smartphone but make sure it's on mute or vibrate during your interview. It avoids the risk of getting a distracting loud text alert or phone call mid-interview.

What Not to Bring to the Interview

There are some things you shouldn't bring to a job interview:

  • Gum
  • Coffee or soda
  • If you have lots of piercings, consider leave some of your jewelry at home (earrings only is a good rule)
  • If possible, cover tattoos

Key Takeaways

Know the Corporate Culture Before You Interview: Traditional industries demand more corporate attire, while startups may find suits stuffy.

Keep It Clean and Pressed: No matter what you wear, make sure it looks new or well-tended. Skip gym clothes or club gear.

Pay Attention to Your Grooming: Keep your hair neat and any accessories or makeup understated.

Remember That You’re Trying to Let Your Talent Shine Through: The interviewer should remember your skills and experience, not your outfit.

Article Sources

  1. CareerOneStop. "Dress for Success," Accessed Nov. 1, 2019.

  2. SHRM. "Dress to Impress, Not Stress, the Hiring Manager," Accessed Nov. 1, 2019.

  3. Human Rights Campaign. "Workplace Dress Codes and Transgender Employees," Accessed Nov 1. 2019.