How Should I Dress for My Interview?

Tim Sackett Career Advice, Coaching, Corporate America, Dress Code, Tim Sackett

Have you noticed that this is becoming an issue for both candidates and employers?

It used to be pretty simple. If you got an interview, for almost any position, you showed up in your ‘Sunday’s Best’. That usually meant some kind of suit and tie for dudes and some kind of dress/skirt/pantsuit for the ladies.

Then ‘Business Casual’ happened and ultra-low unemployment happened and younger generations wanted workplaces that are less formal happened and well, now we have no idea how we should dress for an interview.

My simple rule of thumb was always dress like the people you’re going to go interview with, but be a little better. If their normal dress code was khaki’s and a polo, maybe you should go khakis and a button-down shirt with a tie. If they wore dress slacks and a button-down shirt, you went with a suit or jacket and tie.

Somewhere along the line candidates decided to start dressing like they wanted that made themselves feel comfortable not really caring what the people with whom they were interviewing were wearing.

A couple of things happen when you way under-dress or over-dress for an interview. You make others start to question you in a number of ways that has nothing to do with your ability to do the job. If you under-dress they question is you really want this job or care. If you over-dress, by a lot (think Step Brothers movie where they wore tuxedos to interviews for service level jobs) they question your sanity and ability to read situations!

Here are my Rules of Dressing for an Interview: 

  1. Before going on the interview ask what the normal dress code is for the position and organization. Also, ask if that dress code is different for the people you’ll be speaking with. In some organizations, you might normally be business casual, but the executives dress more formally.
  2. At a minimum, meet the dress code of the people you’ll be meeting with. Ideally, go one step up unless you’re told specifically to wear something else by the person setting up the interview.
  3. Never wear jeans and a t-shirt to a professional level position interview, even if the person you’re interviewing with is dressed in that fashion. A t-shirt is never appropriate interview attire.
  4. You get one chance to make that first impression. You don’t have to be beautiful, but you do have to be the most beautiful version of yourself possible. So, be clean, style your hair, clean up your beard, smell pleasant. No one, even those who smoke and drink coffee, wants to interview someone who smells like smoke and has coffee breath!
  5. Bring a backup shirt and tie. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve interviewed someone who has come in with a coffee stain on their shirt or tie because of a spill on the way to the interview! It tells me this person didn’t have the foresight to understand they might spill and now they look like a fool during the entire interview.
  6. Have someone who will tell you the truth give you their opinion on your interview outfit. Is it too tight? Too loose? Inappropriate? Is there something better I look really great in that I should be wearing? Do that fashion show prior so you have enough time to change if needed.
  7. Iron your stuff! If you can’t iron send your stuff to the cleaners to get pressed. Wrinkled clothes show a lack of attention to detail.
  8. Never fall into the trap of having a person tell you “Just wear whatever is comfortable to you.” to the interview! This is a setup for failure! Ask the question – “Thank you! That sounds great, but really, what do most people who are successful in the interview process wear?”

It’s a new and crazy world we live in, but some things change much slower than others. Also, if you think about it, you’re usually interviewing one generation up. If you’re a Millennial, you’re probably interviewing with a Gen X, etc. So, it’s not about what you think is normal, it’s about what does the generation above think is normal.

Hit me in the comments talent pros – what are your suggestions for interviewees when it comes to dress code for interviews?