What to Wear to an Interview: Do’s and Don’ts

Your application for that administrative assistant position made the cut, and the hiring manager has asked you to come in for a job interview. Once you get over your initial excitement, though, it’s time to give serious thought to what to wear to an interview. Would it be better to don your finest power suit or play it cool with business casual?

It may seem superficial to some, but it’s worth spending extra time selecting your attire. Whether you like it or not, your appearance has a lot to do with a hiring manager’s first impression of you. You want to look ready to step into the role you’re seeking.

Let’s critique the interview outfits worn by our models

Beginning left to right, going clockwise:

  • The first candidate looks ready to hire from head to toe. She's wearing a well-chosen suit, her hair is neat, she's the epitome of professional.
  • In the second photo, the gentleman's heart is in the right place, but his clothing doesn't fit, which is a big no-no.
  • The third job seeker is wearing an outfit that may be cute for lunch with friends on the weekend, but it's too casual for an interview.

Let's dig deeper into outfits like these so you know what to wear to an interview. Here are several do's and don'ts all job seekers should keep in mind:

DON’T dress too casually (or overdress)

You have to walk a fine line when deciding what to wear to an interview. 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. Overdress, and it may seem like you don't get the company or it's unique culture. How do you decide which way to lean?

First, the type of organization you're interviewing with can tell you a lot. Chances are the dress code will be more formal at a law firm than a technology company, for example.

Also think about the role itself. You might dress up a little more if you're interviewing for an executive assistant position rather than a customer service job.

Each company has a unique corporate culture. What have you learned about your target firm's corporate culture that can clue you into the typical dress code? You may even consider asking the hiring manager. Most won't mind giving you some insight into the dress code ahead of your meeting.

If you're still stumped about what to wear to an interview, err on the side of caution. It's hard to go wrong with a button-up shirt or blouse and well-tailored slacks, even if staff members wear jeans to work.

DO plan ahead

If you're like many job seekers, your suit may reside in the back of your closet and come out only for weddings and other special occasions. If you haven't worn your interview attire for a while, bring it out a few days before your meeting so you can give it a thorough once-over. You want to make sure it's free of stains, rips and wrinkles, which could give the hiring manager the impression that you’re careless or sloppy. Give yourself enough time to have the garment cleaned or hemmed if necessary.

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

While you're at it, make sure your clothes fit well. You don't want to risk a wardrobe malfunction at the wrong time.

DON’T sacrifice your comfort

Many people make the mistake of choosing style over comfort when deciding what to wear to an interview. But when you’re physically uncomfortable, it’s difficult to project the best image and concentrate on the questions you’re being asked. If you’re constantly mopping sweat off your brow or squirming because your waistband is snug, your interviewer will be sure to notice.

Instead, opt for clothing that you actually like. Remember, when you feel comfortable, you exude confidence.

DO choose shoes and accessories wisely

Many people express themselves through their footwear and accessories. But in a job interview, it’s best to let your skills and experience do the talking. You want the hiring manager to focus on your responses, not the wacky pattern of your tie or the clanging of your bracelets.

So when thinking about what to wear to an interview, select a simple, conservative tie and belt, and keep jewelry understated and to a minimum.

DON’T overlook the extras

When thinking about what to wear to an interview, you want to carefully consider all the items you'll have with you. That includes whatever you plan to bring to hold extra copies of your resume, a list of references, and pen and notepad, and other similar items.

Although not part of your wardrobe, you don't want to overlook your briefcase, messenger bag or purse. Make sure whatever bag you bring is clean and in good condition.

DO plan for the worst

We've all been there: You're running late and moving a little too quickly. Suddenly, the coffee cup that was in your hand 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.

DO take care with your grooming and demeanor

Dressing for a job interview isn’t all about picking the right clothes. Make sure your hair is neatly styled, your nails are clipped and clean, and your makeup is minimal and conservative. Also, forgo the perfume or other fragrances; many people have allergies or get headaches from strong scents.

Along these lines, make sure to brush your teeth, eat a mint or use breath fresher before your interview. You're going to be doing a lot of talking, and you want to be prepared.

DON’T forget to give yourself a final check

Before walking into the company's office, step into the restroom and check out your look in the mirror. Is your hair in order, is your tie straight (do you have any food stuck in your teeth)? Making sure you're looking sharp will help you do your best during the job interview.

DON’T make any of these mistakes

Still feeling somewhat nervous about what to wear to an interview? Here's our final tip: Don't follow in these job seekers' footsteps. OfficeTeam asked more than 650 human resources managers to name the strangest interview outfits they had ever seen or heard of. The answers shocked us:

  • "A blanket worn as a shawl"
  • "A skirt made out of plastic"
  • "A top held up with a big safety pin"
  • "A cat suit"
  • "A leather vest with no shirt"
  • "A tie-dye T-shirt from the '80s"
  • "A basketball jersey"
  • "A jogging suit"
  • "Pajamas with slippers"
  • "A bandana and torn jeans"
  • "A swimsuit and cover-up"

And the strangest of all: "An applicant wore the uniform from his former employer."

A professional, put-together outfit can help you make a strong impact on a hiring manager, but so can a confident attitude. Exhibit good posture, maintain a pleasant, open expression on your face and avoid common pitfalls throughout the interview, and you’ll likely solidify that positive first impression — and with any luck, also land the job.

More articles on preparing for a job interview

This post was originally published in March 2014 and has been updated to include more current information.


Tags: Interviewing