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?
Table of contents
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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:
- 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
- Neutral-toned lip gloss or lipstick
- A small amount of eyeliner & neutral eyeshadow (optional)
- 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.