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!