How to Dress for a Job Interview

Tips to make sure you are dressed appropriately for your next job interview, plus example outfits for different industries.

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How to dress for a job interview

Here at CF, we’re passionate about helping students succeed in their future careers. Previously, we talked about business dress code basics. Today, I want to go over what to wear to an interview for either a job or internship.

An old cliche applies to the interview process: you need to dress for success! It sounds stupid, but it’s true: what you wear to an interview is just as important as what’s on your resume. First impressions matter so it’s important that you look the part because it’s what recruiters are going to remember.

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?

First, 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 notes 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!

Job Interview Dress Code Basics

Depending on what kind of job you are aiming for, the expected dress code for an interview will vary a bit. However, here are few general tips you should always keep in mind:

  • Stick to classic, professional pieces, like blazers, trousers, pencil skirts, blouses, and sheath dresses.
  • Keep your accessories simple, yet statement-making – they should not be extremely distracting, but should add personality to your look.
  • You can never go wrong with classic pumps in a neutral color, but stick to whatever heel height works for you – it’s better to walk confidently in flats than to be tottering around in stilettos. Also, remember to stick with closed-toe shoes unless your industry is more casual.
  • Skirts and dresses should hit just above the knee, at the knee, or just below the knee. Nothing too short or too long.
  • When in doubt, bring a blazer with you. Note that most of the outfits below do not include a blazer, but it’s best to have one on hand if you are unsure how formal your interview will be. A blazer adds formality to any look.

Sample Outfits for Job Interviews

A lot of what you should wear to an interview depends on what industry you’re trying to get a job in.

The way you dress for your interview is a way to show your personality and how you will fit into the company culture. No matter your career field, infuse your professional outfit with your own style. That way, you will show more of yourself to your interviewer and you’ll also feel extremely confident going into the job market.

You should always dress for the job you want instead of the one you have, so here are some ideas for what to wear to interviews in different industries:

Conservative Industries/Companies – Accounting, Finance, Law, Consulting

Conservative interview outfit: Black dress pants, black blazer, white button-down shirt, black tote, black heels, pearl necklace

Products: Blazer, Pants, Necklace, Shirt, Pumps, Tote

If you’re interviewing in a conservative industry like accounting, finance, law, or consulting, it’s recommended to wear formal business attire so that you look the part. This shows that you are serious about the job and that you mean business.

Even if you aren’t sure about the dress code for your interview, you can’t go wrong with a suit. A matching blazer and pants show that you mean business and that you’re serious about wanting the position. You could also do a suit in a different color, light light gray or navy.

In short, this is the basic job interview outfit to go with if you aren’t sure what to wear or you think your company might be more on the conservative side. It never fails and it never makes you look unprofessional. Yes, it’s boring and basic. But it’s also a completely safe bet.

If you want to branch out a little more, though, read on for some more interesting outfit ideas, broken down by industry:

Business, Marketing and Finance (Business Casual)

Business, marketing outfit idea

Products: Watch, Earrings, Blouse, Pants, Bag, Heels

Long gone are the days of wearing a grey pantsuit to work in a business environment. As a business woman, exude authority with tailored pants in summer’s pastel blue and a chic blouse.

Mixing dark colors with lighter colors is the perfect way to create a powerful yet fashionable look. You’re ready to be a Boss Lady.

Healthcare and Education

Education and healthcare outfit - purple

Products: Shirt, Necklace, Earrings, Bag, Heels, Pants

Both education and healthcare are very people oriented career paths. So dress for the part, being both approachable and showcasing your immense capabilities.

A colorful shirt is perfect, especially in lilac seeing as scrubs are usually either blue or pink, which gives you: lilac. Now, go on and save the world.

Government and Journalism

Public office outfit idea: Wide leg leather trousers, blush pink blouse, watch, statement earrings, white tote

Products: Watch, Earrings, Blouse, Pants, Bag, Heels

Women tend to suffer scrutiny in most professions for what they wear, but that seems to be especially true for women who hold public office. But don’t let this derail you from wearing what makes you feel comfortable.

As someone who interacts with the public, you want to exude charisma yet authority, tan colors with a hint of blush do just that. And those shoes! I mean, I think I see the future President…

Note: The leather trousers might read as too trendy in more conservative positions; these wide leg pants from Reformation are a less flashy alternative.

Arts and Architecture

Arts and architecture job interview outfit: Pastel yellow blouse, black architectural purse, wide leg beige trousers, pearl accessories, black heels

Products: Blouse, Bag, Earrings, Bracelet, Pants, Heels

You’re cool, you’re trendy, you’re artistic and you’re gonna get the job. So draw attention to your personality with pieces that showcase your eye for beauty.

Pair the outfit with some professional accessories like a black tote and black heels in beautiful shapes. Can’t wait to see you change the skyline.

Note: For fashion industry specific interview outfit ideas, we have a separate post on the subject. Be sure to see our guide to what to wear to a fashion job interview.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is stem-outfits-interview-linkedin-1024x1024.png

Products: Shirt, Bracelet, Earrings, Heels, Bag, Suit

More and more women are kicking butt in STEM, so here’s how you can kick butt and really stand out in your interview. (Again, go more conservative than this for a conservative company — see step 1, do your research!)

For this statement-making interview outfit, match a trendy plaid suit with a bold blouse like the bold visionary you are. Then go off and reinvent the world around us.

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.

See our guide to hair and makeup for job interviews for full details, but here’s a cliff’s notes version:

Do Wear:

  • Your hair in a clean and simple style
  • Concealer and minimal foundation 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:

  • Second-day hair teased out to here
  • Tons of caked-on foundation and full contour
  • Smokey eye makeup
  • Brightly colored eyeshadow
  • Dramatic false lashes
  • Glittery or super bright lip gloss

What are you going to wear to your job interviews?

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.

Don’t forget the most important thing is that you feel confident in your outfit, because that’s the best look you have.

Also, every outfit always depends on the industry — if you’re working with kids, have more fun, if you’re working in fashion, be more daring, if you’re working on Wall Street, show them who’s boss.

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!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2008; it was completely updated and revamped in 2020 with new photos and information.

39 thoughts on “How to Dress for a Job Interview”

  1. 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:

    Reply
  2. 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!

    Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
  4. 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.

    Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
  6. 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?

    Reply
  7. 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.

    Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
  10. 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!

    Reply
  11. 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!

    Reply
  12. 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.

    Reply
  13. 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

    Reply
  14. 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

    Reply
  15. 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.

    Reply
  16. 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.

    Reply
  17. 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,

    Reply
  18. 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?

    Reply
  19. 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…

    Reply
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    Reply
  21. 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.

    Reply
  22. 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!

    Reply
  23. 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..

    Reply
  24. 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.

    Reply
  25. This article is really helpful! I have an interview coming up next week and I had no idea what to wear unti now 🙂

    Reply
  26. 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.

    Reply
  27. 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??

    Reply
  28. 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

    Reply
  29. 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

    Reply
  30. 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.

    Reply
  31. 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!

    Reply
  32. 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

    Reply

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