The way one should dress for an interview is definitely a widely discussed topic, and there’s a lot of competing information out there. I’m not at all surprised that this is the case. Having spent the past five years of my career interviewing candidates for two very different industries—investment banking and fashion—I know that interview attire isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Instead of opting for the black suit approach—assuming it’s better to be safe than sorry—tailor your outfit to the company and industry you’re interviewing in. Here are a few tips for picking the perfect outfit:
1. Do your detective work.
Have friends who work at the company where you’re interviewing? Ask them what they wear to work every day and what the general culture of the office is like. Is it a super-professional atmosphere or more laid-back? Do people dress more uniformly or more creatively? Getting this information firsthand is ideal but not always possible. Second-best to chatting with someone who works at that company specifically is chatting with someone who works at a similar company in the same industry.
2. When it doubt, ask!
You’ve likely been corresponding with someone at the company to nail down interview logistics. Instead of sending a separate email, include the question along with confirming the date, time, and location. There’s nothing wrong with asking about the dress code in the office!
3. Understand the different types of dress codes.
The main types of dress codes are business formal, business casual, and casual. There are lots of resources out there to define those. While there may be a wide range of things that are acceptable within each dress code, always err on the more formal side of whatever dress code bucket the company falls into. In terms of a casual dress code, I’d suggest bordering on business casual. If interviewing at a fashion-related company, consider wearing their brand or mirroring the style of their brand.
4. When you have incomplete information, play it safe.
If you’re unable to gather any type of information prior to the interview, play it safe by wearing a flexible outfit. A great formula for a flexible outfit is slacks or a skirt paired with a blouse. This gives you the option to bring a blazer along with you and gauge the environment when you arrive in the reception area. If no one else is in a full suit, toss it in your tote. Otherwise, throw it on!
5. Steer clear of a few don’ts.
Regardless of the stated dress code, there are a few things to stay away from no matter what. Use your best judgement and avoid anything short, revealing, ripped, see-through, or overly loud or trendy. Not only is this unprofessional, but it will distract the interviewer. Simply throwing a blazer on over a dress doesn’t make it appropriate for business wear!
When it comes to dressing for an interview, don’t go straight to that black suit. Present yourself in a way that’s professional, reflects who you are, and also mirrors the company’s office environment. We’ve all seen Mark Zuckerberg in his trademark hoodie. Different industries, different rules!
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