How to Dress for a Job Interview

Tips to make sure you are dressed appropriately for your next job interview.
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This is the second part of the College Fashion's How To Dress Professionally series. In a previous article, I talked about business dress code basics. Today, I want to go over what to wear to an interview for either a job or internship. It's a process that most college girls either 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 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?

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!

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. :

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

Products: White Button Up - Uniqlo, Pants - Nordstrom, Blazer - Nordstrom, Pumps - JCPenney, Purse - Aldo

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. Of course, 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, a black bag, and pearls. 

However, to make sure you also don't sacrifice your style and that your interviewers get to see glimpse of who you are, there's nothing wrong with wearing a suit in a different color than black, perhaps something like the look below:

Ann Taylor outfit for conservative interview

An example of Conservative attire from Ann Taylor

Creative Industries - Advertising, Graphic Design, Music, etc. 

Creative Industry Interview Outfit (1)

Products: Pencil Skirt - Kendall & Kylie, Top - Calvin Klein, Cardigan - JCPenney, Hot Pink Clutch - Boohoo, Flats - H&M

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.

For the outfit above, it's important to be professional but still have your sense of style. Wearing a skirt to an interview is absolutely fine as long as it's an appropriate length and does not fit too tightly. The skirt pictured above is from Kendall and Kylie and boasts some pretty lace detailing that makes it more unique. To keep it classy and professional, this outfit is paired up with a nice white top from Calvin Klein that isn't too tight but still dressy and professional. To add color to your wardrobe, add a different colored cardigan on top, such as this pink cardigan from JCPenney. Finally, pair it up with some cute flats and a hot pink clutch from Boohoo as a statement piece.

Fashion Industry:

Fashion Industry Interview Outfits

Product Information: Skirt - Boohoo, Blouse - H&M, Necklace - Kohl's, Shoes - H&M, Purse - H&M

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 and understand what's current. It's important to showcase your style. 

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.

For the outfit above, you want to let them know that you know all about the latest trends while looking professional. This red polka dot skirt from Boohoo is classy, trendy, and would work for a fashion-based interview. It's paired up with a classic white blouse from H&M. Tuck in the shirt and then add a statement necklace that matches the skirt. Beige matches everything so this outfit also has beige pumps to go with it. Make sure you opt for heels to remain professional but fashionable -- flats likely won't cut it in many fashion offices. If you have a designer bag, wear it, but if you don't, just keep your bag neutral so as not to detract from your look. With this outfit, you'll be trendy, fashionable, but also professional for a fashion-based interview.

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 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!

Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2008; it was completely updated and revamped in 2018 with new photos and information.

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