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How to Dress for a Job Interview

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Business Woman in a Suit from Ann Taylor

This is the second part of the College Fashion How To Dress Professionally series.  Yesterday, I talked about business dress code basics.  Today I want to go over what to wear to an interview for a job or internship, a process that most college girls are going through now or will be soon!

An old cliche applies to the interview process: you need to dress for success!  It sounds stupid, but it’s very true: what you wear to an interview is just as important as what’s on your resume.

Here’s how a first impression works, according to a study from former UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian:

First impressions are formed in 7 seconds.  38% of a first impression is based on inflection and tone of voice (how you say things), 7% is based on what you actually say, and a whopping 55% of a first impression comes from NONVERBAL cues!  In short, more than half of every first impression is based on how you look!

Your appearance makes or breaks you in the hiring manger’s mind.  If they like what they see, you have a way better chance of getting the job.  Even if you say all the right things, if your appearance offends the person doing the hiring, chances are you won’t be getting the job.

So how do you know what outfit will make a good impression and what ensemble will have the recruiter firing mind-bullets at you for a half hour while she pretends to listen to what you’re saying?

Be Prepared

The first step in figuring out what to wear to your interview is to do some research!

Find out what industry the firm is part of, talk to other people who have worked there if possible, even creep outside their office checking out what current employees are wearing if you want!

If you’re interviewing in the fashion industry, get to know the style of the company you’ll be working for.  If it’s a designer, know their line and what it represents.  If it’s a PR agency, know their clients and their styles, etc.  This will help you with your own wardrobe choices.

Also, this sounds obvious but can sometimes get overlooked: take note if they specify a certain dress code on their website, in an email to you or in the job listing!  (For some help in decoding what “business casual” and other terms mean, check out my article on business dress code basics.)

If they don’t specify what dress code you’re supposed to wear, assume that they want professional business dress, and go as conservative as you can with your wardrobe.  It’s always better to be over dressed than under dressed!

Sample Outfits

A lot of what you should wear to an interview depends on what industry you’re trying to get a job in!  Here are some ideas for what to wear to interviews in different industries:

Conservative Industries – Accounting, Finance, Law, Consulting, etc. :

What  To Wear To A Job Interview: Conservative Outfit

Product Information: Blazer by Topshop (£45), Pencil Skirt by Wet Seal ($16.50), White Shirt by Banana Republic ($68), Bag by LimeNRoses ($35.20), Pearl Necklace by Banana Republic ($98), Nude Pantyhose by Hanes ($9), Black Leather Pumps by rsvp ($60)

Go for a simple and chic look if you’re interviewing in a conservative industry like accounting, finance, law or consulting, or if you just aren’t sure about the dress code for your interview.  You can’t go wrong with a basic black skirt-suit (a skirt and blazer made of the same material), white collared shirt, simple black pumps, nude pantyhose, a black bag, and pearls.

Creative Industries – Advertising, Graphic Design, Music, etc. :

What To Wear To A Job Interview In A Creative Field

Product Information: Cubic Zirconium Necklace by Banana Republic ($28), Ankle Boots by Report ($102.60), Button Down Shirt by Forever 21 ($22.80), Wide Leg Trousers by Topshop (£28), Cardigan Sweater by H&M ($12), Handbag by BE & D courtesy of Avelle (Bag Borrow or Steal)

When you’re interviewing for a job in a creative field, you can usually dress a little more creatively for the interview.  Unless you’re sure that the office will be very casual, dress fairly formally, adding personal touches like a bright handbag to your outfit.  Don’t be afraid to show off your personality, but keep your look chic and classy at all times.

The outfit above features a button-down cardigan worn over a plain white blouse and wide-leg pants.  You could also wear a coordinating jacket instead of the cardigan for a more formal look.  Also, the handbag is designer, but to make a great impression without actually buying the expensive bag, check out Bag Borrow or Steal and rent one instead!

Fashion Industry

What To Wear To An Interview For A Fashion Industry Job

Product Information: Bag by Lamarthe courtesy of Avelle (Bag Borrow or Steal), Chiffon Blouse by Topshop (£38), Pencil Skirt by Wet Seal ($25.50), Bracelet by Betsey Johnson ($40), Mary Jane Pumps by Marc Jacobs

When you’re interviewing for a job in the fashion industry, or a fashion internship, you need to take your wardrobe even more seriously than someone interviewing to work in the regular old corporate world!  If you’re going to be working with clothes, you need to show the people hiring you that you know how to dress well!

If your interview is with a fashion house, know their style aesthetic and attempt to show them that you fit with their brand.  Don’t wear their label head to toe, but take note of what the designer’s style is and attempt to show them that you understand it.

If you’re interviewing with a fashion magazine, you should go trendier than normal to show that you understand current fashion.  Don’t be over-the-top though: you still need to look professional.  Even though it might be a dream job, it’s still a job!  Remember that when you’re getting dressed for it.

Hair & Makeup

When it comes to doing your hair and makeup for a job interview, just remember: less is more.  You should try to look as polished as possible while still keeping your makeup simple and understated.

Do Wear:

  • Your hair in a clean and simple style
  • Concealer if you need it
  • A small amount of translucent powder to get rid of shine
  • Mascara
  • Neutral-toned lip gloss or lipstick
  • A small amount of eyeliner & neutral eyeshadow (optional)

Don’t Wear:

  • Your dirty hair teased out to here
  • Tons of caked-on foundation
  • Smokey eye makeup
  • Brightly colored eyeshadow
  • Glittery or super bright lip gloss

Summary

At the end of the day, dressing for an interview is about dressing for the job you want, and showing your professionalism via your clothing choices.  If you follow the tips above, I know your next interview will be that much more successful.  If you have any questions, click the comment link and ask away!

Also, check back tomorrow for the next part of the “How To Dress Professionally” series, where we’ll be talking about what to wear to work once you get the job!

Posted on on April 22, 2008 / Filed Under: Fashion Tips / Tags: , , , , , , ,

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84 Responses to “How to Dress for a Job Interview”

  1. 1
    April 22nd, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    great picture…by the way i will make interview tomorrow …thank you

  2. 2
    April 22nd, 2008 at 10:45 pm

    I don’t care how correctly you dress, if you slouch you’ll get points taken off. Please, please, please watch the slouching. Body language is everything. D:

  3. 3
    April 23rd, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    I’m no longer in college, but still read your site!! I wanted to let anyone know that’s interviewing for a tech industry job (web design, programming, etc) that the “creative industries” outfit would be a good choice. I would say no jacket required but do wear a collared shirt. Hope that helps!

  4. 4
    April 23rd, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    Great tips! You are so spot on with everything…except the nude hose! I feel like you could get away with sheer black hose or opaque black tights, nude just feels so grandmotherly to me.

  5. 5
    April 23rd, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    Miss Lacey – So true! I should do an article series on the importance of good posture no matter what your fashion sense! hehe :)

    Carrie – Thanks for the input, that’s really good to know!

    Rachelle – Yeah, you probably could wear black. Idk, my career center always says nude, but I’m sure black would be fine too! I think they’re just conservative around here.

  6. 6
    April 24th, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Very misleading with the information about 55% of a first impression is about what you look like. That’s not what “nonverbal cues” means. What you’re wearing might be important but nonverbal cues refers to body language, gait, professionalism, confidence. Things like a firm handshake are probably more influential than what you’re wearing.

  7. 7
    April 26th, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Alli – I don’t think it’s misleading at all. With the exception of a firm handshake, body language is part of your looks, since a blind person would not be able to pick up on it. Also, gait, professionalism and confidence are still part of looks, since if confidence was portrayed through what you say, it’d be a verbal cue. What you wear and how you do your hair and makeup is PART of your appearance. Obviously I’m not suggesting that all you need to do is be well dressed and forget all the other aspects like body language. BUT, this article is about what you should wear, so I didn’t go into that other stuff.

  8. 8
    May 16th, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    I have a question. When you go to interviews is it okay to take an oversize purse like the blue one you have in one of your clothing samples? Because i truly love how it looks but many people say to not take big purses, so basically I never taken big purses i only took one little purse to an interview once. But what do you think?

  9. 9
    October 12th, 2008 at 8:46 am

    I am reading How To Dress For A Job Interview
    Written by Zephyr on April 22, 2008. The model pictured is wearing open toe shoes. I was always told that open toe shoes are not appropriate for the job interview. Is this still true? What about sling backs and slides? When do shoes begin to make too much of a fashion statement for the interview?

    Thanking you in advance,

    Lauren Allen

  10. 10
    October 13th, 2008 at 9:03 am

    Jessica – I’ve never heard that you shouldn’t bring a big purse! If you’re really worried about it, you could bring a smaller one, but I really think it would be fine with most people interviewing you.

    Lauren – It depends on the season when you’re interviewing and how conservative the workplace is. In general, open-toed shoes are usually fine for more creative industries and when it’s warm out. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with slingbacks or slides.. it’s really a matter of personal preference. If you’re interviewing in a really conservative industry like accounting or finance, you might want to stick with basic pumps if you’re worried about it.

  11. 11
    October 14th, 2008 at 10:17 am

    I’m applying for a job at hooters (no joke…)
    But what would be appropriate for an interview there?
    I was thinking a v neck top so theres a bit of cleavage but i still look professional? Any suggestions??

  12. 12
    October 16th, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this! You have no idea how much I’ve been freaking out about interview outfits. It was truly a crisis!

  13. 13
    October 20th, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    You know I love that you posted this! I am a recent college grad and right now I’m buying my whole interview outfit on eBay because I want something that has style and is unique but still professional. Everything you’re saying in this post is so helpful. I think young people can let a little of their personality show and not always wear a head-to-toe black pantsuit unless the company is VERY conservative. I wish more blogs and websites were giving these suggestions.

    http://ebayfashionaddict.wordpress.com

  14. 14
    October 27th, 2008 at 8:53 am

    Thank you for the reply Zephyr! I will keep this in mind.

    Lauren

  15. 15
    November 5th, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    Hello,

    This has been helpful, but what if I am having an interview for research in lab setting. What should I wear?
    I will appreciate your help
    Thanks

  16. 16
    December 4th, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    I just want to say that this article has been extremely helpful. I have worked for the last ten years in the retail industry (grocery store) where the uniform is provided for you. I’m making a career change and find myself without the SLIGHTEST clue how to dress. I can’t tell you what a relief it was for me to have found this site and your articles about professional dress and business casual wear. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  17. 17
    December 6th, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    This article is really helpful! I have an interview coming up next week and I had no idea what to wear unti now :)

  18. 18
    May 8th, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I’m a college student and i have a job interview [real estate], umm can I not bring a bag/purse? I think you need to reach a certain level before you can bring a bag..

  19. 19
    November 29th, 2009 at 2:26 am

    Loved the article and the outfits you put together!

  20. 20
    January 19th, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    I’m interviewing for a job in the beauty industry and most interview attire suggestions seem so wrong! Thanks for your tips on interview attire for fashion industry jobs, it really applies to my situation.

  21. 21
    January 25th, 2010 at 1:10 am

    I love this page! Can you do an outfit for a teacher? I find that it can be difficult to look for clothes because it’s a hard balance between dressing too formally and being too casual. Also, as a young female teacher it is difficult to dress conservatively without wearing clothes that make me look old. Also a great idea is to do a page for skinny women with small breasts. lots of clothes are made for women who are large or have large breasts, but those of us who are smaller are usually ignored. Thanks!

  22. 22
    March 6th, 2010 at 12:20 am

    I’m going on an interview at a learning center soon to apply for a teacher’s aide position. I have no idea what to wear to an interview like that! I’m in school now to be an Elementary Teacher…do you have any ideas for outfits to wear to interviews at schools and jobs after that? I don’t want to look to casual or too dressed up…

  23. 23
    April 7th, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    YES! DO A TEACHER OUTFIT!!!! I student taught, but now I need to get an actual job and I was never felt like I was remotely stylish while I was teaching.

  24. 24
    April 12th, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I always keep my interview look clean and professional but one time it got me into trouble! I interviewed as a receptionist at Supercuts and wore a professional dress, small heels, minimal makeup (mascara, nude gloss, and light foundation), and my hair down and straightened. The hiring manager criticized me for not wearing more makeup. Although I got the job, she rattled off a list of makeup I would be required to wear to work. I ended up quitting soon after, mainly because of the hectic environment but also because I felt like I was wearing a mask of foundation, lipstick, eyeshadow and thick mascara.

  25. 25
    April 12th, 2010 at 11:14 am

    For those asking about a teacher outfit: I may not be a teacher but when I have volunteered at an elementary school, I paid attention to what the nicely dressed teachers were wearing. Make sure to add some color to your outfit as you will be working with children. Flats might be a better option than heels because of the work environment. Minimal makeup also applies.

  26. 26
    April 12th, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    I have a teaching interview – would that fall under “creative industries”?? I’m super nervous and the last think I want to worry about is my outfit!! HELP!

  27. 27
    May 4th, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I am interviewing for two different internship positions- one in marketing and one in journalism. What do you think I should wear for these interviews? I want to look my age (18) but still appear professional and stylish. Thanks!

  28. 28
    June 16th, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Cute Stuff makes me want to GET A JOB LOL

  29. 29
    July 25th, 2010 at 1:32 am

    I got a job at a super stylish hair salon, but our dress code is all black! Any ideas on cute outfits? I’ve just been wearing pants and skirts with sandals, but I need wardrobe help!

  30. 30
    November 30th, 2010 at 10:31 am

    please i tell me how to dress for interview in software industry???

  31. 31
    December 9th, 2010 at 1:48 am

    for the Hooters interview–I wouldn’t worry about appearing professional, it is not a professional position and everyone in the service industry knows that restaurants are much more successful with hotter waitstaff.

    for the busty girl trying to look more conservative–there are bras now with a little stretch lace cleavage cover built in, and you might also want to try a “boatneck” collar, and look into some of the more conservative ’40’s stylings…you can get a lot of mileage out of a nice cowl neckline, and it’s trendy now with the Mad Men craze…

    for Kris who has to wear black–I had a similar dress code, and I found that playing with texture and draping helps a lot….try a little rouching, a little gather, some crushed velvet or peek-a-boo sheers…you can have lots of style and still wear all black…hair accessories and jewelry are a great way to play off the clothing, as well.

  32. 32
    December 27th, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    I am a MBA graduate. I have an interview after one month. I would like to wear formal dress for the interview but the problem is I am not a slim girl and I m very conscious about wearing trouser or skirts in the interview. My height is 5.2 feet. Please help me in this regard.

  33. 33
    April 11th, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Hi,
    Iam a fresh graduate and looking for jobs now, I have a couple of walk-in interviews ahead. Just wanna ask, if is it ok for me to wear a black suit, white shirt, black skirt and nude pumps? My skin is quite fair, and I’m all over the nude color,which seems lengthen my legs a lot more!! :D And should I match a black bag with the suit or a lighter color with the nude pumps?

    Thank you so much dear,’

  34. 34
    July 4th, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    I just got a few pencil skirts and button-up collared shirts. But when I put them together I look like a flight attendant. How do I avoid that?

  35. 35
    July 18th, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    I love this website, I knew this was the correct drees atire for a jobe interview, but with the time changing every minute, was not sure. I’m 50 years old but look 30 and feel 25. Great website

  36. 36
    August 30th, 2011 at 4:20 am

    Hi,

    I really liked this article, but I have a question. I aspire to apply for a selective research master around March 2012. Do you have any idea what would be wise to wear for the interview, which is part of the admission procedure?

    Juliëtte

  37. 37
    October 26th, 2011 at 3:01 am

    Hi.
    does the size of the high heels matter or does it have a specific size?
    Thanks,
    -Berna

  38. 38
    December 24th, 2011 at 1:35 am

    Ali- I assure you that your outfit is intensely important when you go to an interview. That really isn’t even worth debating. But its even likely that what you wear is one of the first things anyone notices about you. Even before they see your expression or the way you move they see your outfit. Right or wrong people judge by that a lot. In every situation.

  39. 39
    December 24th, 2011 at 1:46 am

    I am sure it depends on what it is you say. For example if you are meeting your fiance’s parents and say “I think we should have an orgy”, I doubt that even a firm handshake, a warm expression, and a perfect outfit will make much of an impression. Its very hard for me to believe that your actual words are so unimportant at first meeting. i remember exactly what many people said to me when we first met, and I don’t recall what they wore.

  40. 40
    January 4th, 2012 at 7:48 am

    hi,
    . I am interviewing for an house officer job(doctor) in few days . Do you have any idea what would be best to wear for the interview,

  41. 41
    January 20th, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Great list Zephyr! Another good one to add to the “don’t” list is: Don’t wear an outfit that is too tight. You always hear about revealing, but many women forget that tight is revealing. Yes, it’s nice to have a shape and show it off, but not on your first interview. Don’t wear a frumpy outfit, but don’t wear a painted on pencil skirt and tight top either. First impressions are key, and unfortunately, most impressions are made within the first few seconds HR sees your choice of interview outfit.

    Zephyr, if you have to choose between a pencil skirt or pant suit, what would you recommend?

  42. 42
    March 8th, 2012 at 1:11 am

    This blog is very helpful..! thanks for sharing with us this beautiful and informative post..:)

  43. 43
    March 28th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    I am going for a interview for Dillard’s and I was just wondering if you have any suggestions as to what to wair for my interview?

  44. 44
    April 4th, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    I work at Dillard’s – wear either a cute professional dress or slacks with a matching structured jacket. That’s the dress code!

  45. 45
    June 16th, 2012 at 9:02 am

    What do I wear if I’m going for a job interview at a science-y place?

  46. 46
    August 13th, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    I am 53 an have been out of work for 1 year . I was 30 the last time I had to do a interview. Now I have the first interview after months of looking. This is for a
    rental management position. I was told by staff BLACK only required code. Should I go to a high end dress shop for dress and shoes. Even from your bloggs simple but professional. I am in a small town and shops are not available here. What do I do? As I was thinking back and reading I remembered
    that yes first impressions do make a big difference. SO HELP LIKE NOW!!
    need to get this together. Interviews could start and end of week like8-16&17-2012

  47. 47
    April 2nd, 2013 at 12:47 am

    Just a note on the first outfit- either buy a suit where the blazer and skirt match OR go for intentional contrast. For example, the blazer shown would work fine with a black skirt. Because the two pieces are a little bit too close in color, it looks sloppy and accidental that they don’t match. Also, the shirt doesn’t have to be white, even in conservative industries. Pale blue, light pink, ivory and other traditional colors are fine, too.

  48. 48
    June 30th, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Some great tips and very true about making sure you do your research first!

  49. 49
    July 1st, 2013 at 4:15 am

    I personally love this article! It has a lot of great fashion ideas that aren’t only doable, but affordable as well. The hair and make up tips are spot on, and I totally agree with the statement: LESS is MORE!

  50. 50
    July 23rd, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Yes…interviewees…ohh there are so important and yet so stressfull, great tips for our outfit… my opinion is that the character of the people which interviews you counts also…

  51. 51
    December 4th, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    A great read on properly dressing up for a job interview. Thanks for sharing this helpful article.

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