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What to Wear for the Interview

On-Campus Recruiting begins today so we thought we’d share some tips on dressing for an interview.

Although certain qualifications and skills are mandatory for many jobs, the interview can often make or break one’s chances. First impressions say a lot, and what interviewers absorb in the first 30 seconds is what they are most likely to remember. You’ll want that first impression to be not just a good one, but also a great one. Not only do you need to keep a cool composure, be confident in your skills and know all about the organization you are interviewing with, you also need to physically look the part.

Your professional image can plummet if your look is not up to par. A common mistake college graduates make is skimping on the effort to maintain a polished personal appearance. Before an employer sees your work, they see you; and if you look messy, they will assume that your work is messy too. Aside from your performance, the company’s image is at stake. As an employee, you are a representative of your company. And who wants a disheveled-looking representative?

Golden Rule of Dressing for an Interview

Dress well. It’s always better to dress for the position above the position you’re actually seeking. You will command more respect by being well dressed. If you don’t know what looks good, seek help.

Dressing for an Interview FAQ

Deciding what to wear to an interview brings up many questions that can become overwhelming. Below is a list of common questions and answers on how to dress for an interview.

How Will I Decide What to Wear to the Interview?

Remember, each company has an individual culture and environment. Try to find out what the standard is for the company before the interview. When you schedule the interview, ask what would be appropriate. Or call the human resources department and ask what the company’s dress code is. Sometimes an interviewer will tell you what to wear: “We don’t dress up here, so a suit is not necessary.”

Another way of matching the company standard is to dress like employees of the company do. If you can, “case the joint” prior to showing up for an interview. By this I mean, hang out in the parking lot or in front of the building when employees are arriving for or leaving work in order to observe what they are wearing. Choose any day other than a Friday, which is when some companies allow more casual dress. If you see people dressed in casual attire, remember to take it up a notch. An interview requires more formal dress. While you may not have to wear a suit and tie, you should wear dress pants and a blazer or sport jacket.

What should I wear?

First and foremost, no matter what you wear, your clothes should be neat, clean, and wrinkle free. Generally, it’s a good idea to wear a suit for a job interview. Go with something simple, in a neutral tone. The more conservative your field is, the more conservative your suit should be.

Men’s Interview Attire

  • Suit (solid color – navy or dark grey)
  • Long sleeve shirt (white or coordinated with the suit)
  • Belt
  • Tie
  • Dark socks, conservative leather shoes
  • Little or no jewelry
  • Neat, professional hairstyle
  • Limit the aftershave
  • Neatly trimmed nails
  • Portfolio or briefcase


  • A white dress shirt is best but only if you wear a plain white t-shirt underneath. Nothing kills an interview faster than the silhouette of a man’s upper torso peaking through a white dress shirt.
  • Your shoes should match your belt and be polished

Women’s Interview Attire

  • Suit (navy, black or dark grey)
  • The suit skirt should be long enough so you can sit down comfortably
  • Coordinated blouse
  • Conservative shoes (closed toe, 1 – 1 ½ inch heels)
  • Limited jewelry (no dangling earrings or arms full of bracelets)
  • No jewelry is better than cheap jewelry
  • Professional hairstyle
  • Neutral pantyhose
  • Light make-up and perfume
  • Neatly manicured clean nails
  • Portfolio or briefcase


  • Although pants suits are more widely accepted today than they once were, skirt suits are still preferred in conservative fields such as government, banking, or law. For you slacks gals, try not to mix pieces from different suits. You’re already running the risk of being criticized as a nonconformist; so keep the look as traditional as possible.
  • Experts recommend that your skirt length should fall at, or very close to, your knee. You should also be able to sit comfortably with your legs crossed without worrying about showing too much leg.

If Not a Suit, Then What?

Even though many creative job positions have business casual interviews, you should only resort to business casual attire for interviews that specify it is appropriate. Though similar to formal business attire, there are small exceptions that allow you to dress more laid-back look, while still appearing somewhat conservative.

Business casual for men and women is wearing a jacket or blazer that does not match the pant or skirt. The colors must be compatible though, and never outrageous. Stick to the traditional gray, black or navy because those colors never lose popularity for interviewing. Also, most formal business suits are made of wool, but lightweight fabrics, such as gabardine, are fine for business casual.

Though there is more leeway, don’t stray too far from conservative business formal attire. You want interviewers to remember your face and personality, not your ridiculous get-up.

Do I have to buy a new suit?

As long as your suit is in good condition and not outdated, you don’t have to buy a new one. If you do decide to purchase a new suit, buy the best one you can afford and make sure you don’t get anything too trendy. You want your investment to last. Whatever you decide to wear, make sure it fits properly and is of the best quality you can afford. What seems like a big investment now will pale in comparison when you get the job.

Where to buy a new suit?

Brooks Brothers, Saks Fifth Avenue and other upscale retailers often sell discounted suits at factory outlets. The selection might be limited, but you can sometimes find a high quality suit at a great price. Major retailers such as Dillard’s are also great for finding quality suits at an affordable price.

If you can’t afford professional clothes for an important job interview, borrow them from a friend of buy them secondhand. No one will now but you. When you get the job you’ll be the one laughing all the way to the clothing store of your choice!

What shoes should I wear?

In all instances, wear closed-toe shoes. Sandals are never appropriate for a job interview, unless you are applying for a job as a lifeguard. Black shoes match everything (yes, even your navy blue suit). Stick with a conservative style. Women should not wear very high heels. Be sure that the shoes are polished.

Must I buy new shoes?

No. Shoes you’ve already worn are fine, unless they are in bad condition or out of style. A little shoe polish may be in order here.

What should I carry with me — a purse, a briefcase, a backpack?

By all means, leave the backpack at home. You want to look professional, not like you’re taking a stroll across campus. A woman can carry a small to medium sized handbag. A man or woman can carry a briefcase if he or she wishes, or a folder or portfolio.

What about jewelry?

Men should not wear any. That’s right; it’s time to remove all the earrings. Even the tiny diamond studs have to hit the jewelry box. The same goes for pinky rings, gold chains, and bracelets. Women are given more leeway in this department. A sparse exhibit of jewelry will not raise any eyebrows. But chunky bracelets, dangling earrings, and numerous rings can cost you the job.

What Should I Avoid Wearing?

  • Strong cologne, perfume or after shave
  • Large jewelry
  • Piercings, other than in your ears
  • Exposed tattoos
  • Open-toed shoes
  • Low-cut blouses or opened shirts
  • Wrinkled clothes
  • White socks with a dark suit
  • Don’t wear anything that connects you to religious group, political cause, association, etc. – don’t want to bias interviewer

Grooming for an Interview

Good grooming will give the impression of confidence. If you make an effort with your appearance it suggests that you will make an effort at work.

What about my nails?

Do not overlook your fingernails. Your nails should be clean. A man’s nails should be kept short and a woman’s nails shouldn’t be excessively long and should be bare or polished in a neutral color. Women wearing fingernail polish should be sure that it is applied evenly and not chipped.

What about makeup? How much is okay?

Don’t paint on the makeup. Keep it simple and use neutral colors. Makeup should be subtle. Wearing make-up looks polished suggests you get out of bed early enough to apply it.

What about cologne or perfume?

The question of fragrance is answered with a simple no. That goes for men and women. Don’t take the chance of being turned down for a job just because someone doesn’t agree with your scent. Obviously, body odor is never a welcome smell; so keep it clean folks. And tread lightly on deodorant, since too much can be worse than the most unappetizing perfume.

What about hair?

Your hair should be neat and clean. Try to keep it out of your face. Tying long hair back will remove the temptation to twiddle it neurotically. For men, a fresh haircut and facial hair freshly shaved or trimmed.

Before the Interview Attire Tips

  • Get your clothes ready the night before, so you don’t have to spend time getting them ready on the day of the interview.
  • If your clothes are dry clean only, take them to the cleaners after an interview, so they are ready for next time.
  • Polish your shoes.
  • Bring a breath mint and use it before you enter the building.
  • Avoid last-minute clothing disasters by trying on your suit a few days before the interview.
  • Plan for the unexpected: if you will wear a skirt, buy an extra pair of stockings; if you have shoes that tie, get more shoelaces. Bring such extras along with you the day of the interview.
  • Wear the clothes and shoes a few times before your first interview so that you feel comfortable.
  • If you smoke, abstain prior to the interview. Be sure that your breath is fresh.

What to Bring

Resume and References

Bring several copies of the latest version of your resume and a list of references on a separate sheet of paper with you to the interview. If you sent a resume ahead of time, someone at the company has likely written over it, shared it or lost it. Also, you may end up talking with someone who hasn’t seen your resume and needs a copy. Never depend on someone else to have what should be your number-one sales tool.

Bring extra copies of your resume to help you fill out the application quickly, neatly, and accurately, and to provide if needed. Bring anything else you’ve done to show the caliber of your work.

Briefcase or Portfolio

Bring a briefcase, portfolio, or some type of presentable folder, not a backpack or bulky bag. If you don’t have a briefcase or leather-looking folder, better to bring nothing than try to produce a makeshift replica from a torn folder.

In addition to giving you a professional look, a briefcase serves a function: it gives portability to things you’ll want at the interview. These include a pen and paper to record important information, such as the proper spelling of the interview’s name and the time and date of follow-up interviews; copies of your resume or application and references; and examples of your work, such as writing samples.

What Not to Bring

Personal Electronics

Leave personal electronics at home or in your car. People think they’ve turned their pager or cell phone off and they never have. Don’t even take the chance that they will interrupt an interview. If your pager or cell phone accidentally goes off, apologize and turn it off quickly. If you have a possible emergency situation, make sure to alert the interviewer ahead of time.

Your Crew

Do not plan to take anyone with you. Not your parents, friends, cousins, or anyone else. You’re on your own for this one.

Food and Drink

Dispose of food or drink before you enter the office building. You’re interview won’t be so long that you’ll need refreshments. If it does, your interviewer will most likely offer you something to eat or drink.

Original posting: Improving Your Job Interview Appearance from Real World 101 Blog by Patricia Hudak

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