You’ve spent countless hours studying, building your resume, and practicing your adult voice for interviews. But nothing can replace that split-second moment when your prospective employer sees your outfit.
Lucky for you, unlike all that other stuff, you can nail the perfect look in a single afternoon.
Yet not every interview calls for the same thing. To find the outfit and style that works for you and for them, you have to consider the industry and the setting. And above all you have to remember to be yourself. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to style, so make sure you’re being true to who you are.
Here are five looks that should carry you through the first hurdle of any interview.
Where it works: traditional corporations, grad schools, and professional/conservative offices
The key to nailing the business formal look is keeping your outfit clean and simple. And you can’t go wrong with a classic suit (think colors like black, gray, or navy), dress shoes, and a dress shirt.
If a suit isn’t available, a blazer and slacks can make for an equally confident look, as long as you stick to more traditional colors. And, of course, a high quality tie will bring the outfit together. If you’re especially adventurous, feel free to opt for a matching pocket square.
A blazer on top and a skirt/slacks with a simple white blouse is tried-and-true. There’s also the option of a classic black dress, which can be complemented with a colorful blazer.
Where it works: Start-ups, relaxed office environments, and everything in between
The business casual look is the most flexible in your arsenal. It can mean nice pants or a skirt; a simple blouse, quality flats, or slacks/chinos; or a dress shirt or oxford and well-kept dress shoes.
For places like start-ups and media companies, be sure to do some detective work online. See if you can find the company’s dress code on its website. You can also try scoping out their offices on social media.
What are the people wearing in the company’s promotional materials or Instagram Story? That’s how you should look when you arrive.
Pro tip: Feel free to ask the recruiter or hiring manager how you should dress.
Where it works: Media companies, freelance interviews, agencies, and casual networking events
Sometimes your style can say a lot about your personal aesthetic, sparkling personality, and distinguishing qualities. Long story short: If you’re interviewing for a position in a creative field, it’s important to convey a sense of professionalism while still getting across what makes you unique.
Here’s where you can experiment with the business casual look. Try a different color blouse, button-down, or blazer, and throw in some well-coordinated accessories (tie/socks/pocket square/jewelry/watch).
Of course, sticking to the classics is always a good option. So, if that’s your style, then embrace it!
Where it works: Non-profits, museums/galleries, health care
The world of non-profit organizations contains many different standards for dress. Some offices are more formal, while others have no articulated dress code at all. (Again, you’re going to want to do some detective work on social media and the company’s website to see if you can ascertain how people in their offices dress.)
However, it’s always a safe bet to go for a sharp business casual look. Think nice pants, a simple blouse, and comfortable flats; that can also mean slacks, a dress shirt, and comfortable dress shoes you wouldn’t mind taking an office tour in. (Bowtie optional.)
The Coffee Networking Guru
Where it works: Coffee shops, networking events, business dinners
Networking over coffee can be a boon for your career. But you want to strike a balance between serious and professional, comfortable and hard-working.
So, what does that look like? You could opt for a polo shirt or dress shirt, slacks or chinos, and a comfortable pair of dress shoes or nice (and clean!!) sneakers. You might also go for dark-wash jeans, a simple blouse, and nice shoes.
But no matter what, make sure you:
Ask before the interview. When you’re scheduling your in-person meetings, ask the hiring managers what the dress code is. They’ll give you the scoop so you can focus on your answers instead of your sartorial decisions.
Find out what the office is like. If you blanked on asking the hiring manager, then do some detective work. Check out the company’s website and social media channels to scope out the office style.
Iron, steam, and clean, clean, clean. Make sure your clothes are clean, your shirts and pants are ironed (or steamed), and everything is crisp and neat. These minor elements can signal a lot about your organizational skills and reliability.
Be yourself. Make sure whatever you’re wearing still speaks to YOU. Embrace your personal style and play around with how you can still be yourself while dressing for the new role.