What to Wear to an Interview for a Job You Really Want

By Robert Half March 9, 2017 at 2:30pm

You wowed the employer with your resume and landed a job interview for a position that’s your top pick. So, what now? You know you need to be able to elaborate on the specifics of your background and skills, your work ethic and why you’re a great fit for the company. But have you thought about what to wear to the interview?

While your wardrobe might seem inconsequential to landing a job, appropriate interview attire carries significant weight. This isn’t a fashion show, but first impressions count. It’s worth spending some time to select clothes that show you’re ready to step into the role you’re seeking.

So first and foremost, make the most of your job interview by dressing for the part. Following are six steps you should follow as you scour your closet while considering what to wear to an interview.

Step 1: Find out how people at the company dress

If you know someone who works at the company, ask about the standard office attire, or consider bringing up the dress code policy on the phone when scheduling the in-person meeting. Look on social media for pictures of the staff on a regular day. The type of organization you're interviewing with can tell you a lot, too. For example, the dress code will likely be more formal at a law firm than a creative agency.

Each company has a unique organizational culture. Do the men wear business suits and dress shirts with ties, or collared shirts with sports jackets, or no jackets at all? Are the women in dresses or blouses and skirts, or well-tailored pants? Or is everyone wearing jeans?

You don’t want to stride into a very casual company dressed to the nines, but you also don’t want to go the business casual route only to find out the interviewer is wearing a suit. If you appear too casual, the employer may question your professionalism. Significantly overdress, and it may seem like you don't get the company or its unique culture.

Step 2: Think about the role you’re after

You’ve probably heard that if you want to get ahead, you should model your attire after the person who holds the job you want. That’s not bad advice.

“Looking the part” will help the hiring manager visualize you in the position. Meanwhile, think about the specific role you’re seeking. You might dress up a little more if you're interviewing for a more senior-level position, for instance.

Keep in mind that you can always wear a dress jacket, then remove it and throw it casually over your shoulder if it feels too dressy once you arrive. It's a nice way to keep your options open.

Step 3: Plan ahead for what to wear to an interview

If you're like many job seekers, your suit may be hiding out in the back of your closet, where it doesn’t get much use. If you haven't worn your interview outfit for a while, get it out a few days before your meeting so you can give it a thorough once-over.

You don't want wrinkles or stains to give the hiring manager the impression you’re careless or sloppy. Give yourself enough time to have the garment cleaned and pressed, if necessary.

And don't overlook your footwear. Your shoes should be clean, polished and appropriate — closed-toed flats or low pumps for women, and dress shoes for men.

While you're at it, check to see that your interview attire still fits well. If it’s been a long time since you wore it, make sure it isn’t too baggy or tight. You obviously don't want to risk a wardrobe malfunction at the wrong time.

And if you have to ask yourself if an article of clothing is interview-appropriate, it probably isn’t. When in doubt, always play it safe.

Step 4: Choose your accessories wisely

Many people express themselves through their accessories. But a job interview is not a style contest. When discussing your career with an interviewer, it’s best to let your skills and work experience do the talking. You can’t afford to let a wacky tie or clanging bracelets distract — and detract — from your message.

When thinking about how to accessorize, select a simple, conservative tie and belt, and keep jewelry, including your watch, understated and to a minimum. You should also make certain whatever bag or briefcase you bring is clean and in good condition.

As for grooming, your hair should be neatly styled, nails clipped and clean, and makeup minimal and conservative. Also, forgo perfume or aftershave; many people have allergies or get headaches from strong scents.

Step 5: Make sure you’re comfortable

Don’t make the mistake of choosing fashion over practicality when deciding what to wear to an interview. When you’re physically uneasy, it’s difficult to project the best image and concentrate on the questions you’re being asked. If you are a woman, you may want to leave those very high heels at home. And if you’re constantly mopping sweat off your brow or squirming because your waistband is too snug, your interviewer will be sure to notice.

Instead, opt for clothing that you actually like. Remember, when you feel good, you exude an air of confidence and ease.

Part of being comfortable is to plan for the worst. We've all been there: You're running late and moving a little too quickly. Suddenly, the coffee that was in your cup is now all over your lap. The last thing you want is for this to happen on your way to a job interview.

If you can, stash a backup outfit in your car in case the worst-case scenario comes true. If you're planning to take public transportation to your job interview, try to stash a cover-up of some sort in your bag, such as a sweater or shawl.

Step 6: Give yourself a final check

Before you walk into the company's office, step into the restroom and check yourself in the mirror. Is your hair in order? Buttons buttoned? Tie straight? Do you have any food stuck in your teeth? Pop a mint or use breath freshener before your interview. You're going to be doing a lot of talking, and you want to be prepared.

A professional, put-together outfit can make a strong impact on a hiring manager and solidify that first impression during a job interview. Exhibit good posture and maintain a pleasant, open expression on your face. Look sharp, dress for success — and land the job you want!

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