Interview Tips Series 5

How To Dress For An Interview?

I am often asked by young people about the best way to dress for an interview. The answer is not simple. So much depends on the type of job, the company environment, the hiring manager, and your personality. You may not know much about the company or the hiring manager. The job type might not include a standard for professional attire. Also, any company today can intentionally defy standards as part of its branding strategy. It’s just not as easy today as it was for your parents, who knew to wear a dark suit and red tie or conservative dress and heels for any interview.

In general, however, dressing for an interview has not changed forever. The reason why you should care about your dress and for the attire choices you will make remain the same – your appearance is the hiring manager’s first impression of you, if you let it be. Rather than trying to “dress to impress,” the key is that you don’t “dress to not impress.” Let’s look at the basics:


More than anything else, you should be clean and healthy looking with well-maintained teeth, hair, nails, and “aroma.” Too much cologne or perfume is as bad as a wisp of body odor. Worn clothing, unshined shoes, ill-fitting attire, and untrimmed hair will say more about you every minute you sit in front of hiring managers than anything you can hope to say in answering their questions. Displaying respect for your appearance indicates your respect for the opportunity you’re being given to interview with the company. That’s not to say that you won’t be hired unless you look like a runway model or that you should be self-conscious of a few extra pounds. It should just be obvious that you’ve done the best that can be done with what you got, and be confident.


This is another non-verbal sign that can greatly influence hiring managers, whether they even understand how it has influenced their opinion. Do not slouch, whether standing or sitting. Exhibit attentiveness without seeming to be on edge. Be calm and thoughtful, but also energetic. Remember that confidence is good but overconfidence may just be your undoing. Clothing should hang loosely to convey personal confidence and security, yet still fit and flatter your body style. Don’t conflict with the hiring manager’ style, yet don’t sink to their level if it doesn’t reflect well on you. For example, if the manager is soft spoken, leaning forward too far may invade her space. However, just because the hiring manager is exhausted from interviewing many candidates, you shouldn’t lean back in your chair and relax as well. Instead, identify with or accommodate her behavior in other ways, such as by slowing down your speech or shortening your responses. Do not make the hiring manager uncomfortable.

Reflect Their Style

Ideally, you will have researched the company’s culture and how it is reflected in the way employees dress. That’s not to say that if its culture is very informal you should show up for the interview in shorts and flip-flops; however, you shouldn’t necessarily wear a suit and tie either. Perhaps, jeans and a blazer with a button shirt is the appropriate middle ground.

On the other hand, applying at a large law firm or accounting practice would suggest a business suit be worn. When in doubt, choose to elevate your dress one level. If at all possible, find out how the hiring manager dresses – for example, if the interview has been scheduled by a third-party recruiter, ask her for guidance. If applying with a large company, you might contact the HR department and ask the receptionist for advice.

Ageism is Usually Not an Issue

Don’t make it one by dressing too young or too old. For most jobs, it really is true that employers don’t care so much about age. They only make it an issue when you do by acting in a way that reflects immaturity (young) or lack of energy (old). Don’t mention your age or draw attention to it in any way. An older candidate should wear sufficient clothes to stay warm on a cold day, but not so many layers that she seems to suffer from poor circulation. On the other hand, younger people tend to wear fewer clothes and to shun some certain undergarments, such as slips, hose, and undershirts. Look like you own a complete wardrobe.

Dress with Confidence

Choose attire that you feel great wearing – as long as it fits the guidance here. Nothing you can wear will look better on you than confidence. A highly confident person wearing a burlap sack probably has a better chance of being hired that any finely-dressed wallflower. Wear your best smile. Polish your sparkling eyes. No one will care about your cheap Timex watch when the hand wearing it shakes theirs firmly, for an extra second or two, and you look directly into their eyes with an inviting smile and sincere pleasure for their company.

To Hose or Not to Hose

Not too many years ago, it would have been unheard of for a woman to not wear hose when wearing a skirt or dress to an interview. That custom seems to be evolving, but I wouldn’t recommend flouting it as some personal political statement. The goal is to get the job offer. Wait until you have the job to express your more rebellious self.

Tattoo Taboo?

Unfortunately, whether a tattoo is revealed or not during an interview is just not an option for many young people today who would basically have to wear a burqa to the interview to hide theirs. If at all possible, hide tattoos if it can be done without looking obvious.

Most Importantly

The way you dress should not attract attention or detract from their attention on you – unless you’re applying to a company in the fashion industry. The goal is to impress the hiring manager with your skills, experience, achievements, and personality, not your custom-tailored suit. If the hiring manager doesn’t even remember what you wore, that’s probably a very good thing. You probably don’t recall what the President was wearing last time you saw him, and millions of people voted for him.-