Dress for Success: What to Wear to an Interview

Kat at Smashing Pennies suggested I write about what to wear to an interview. This is an interesting topic and clearly one that is up for debate. For example, when I told my wife that open-toed shoes are definitely out for job interviews, she said I was crazy. I stand by my claim.

Of course, I read in the Wall Street Journal a year or two back about one executive who said he would never hire anyone with rubber-soled shoes. Perhaps that’s above my echelon, but I personally have never owned leather-soled dress shoes. If my Rockport wingtips are dressy enough for weddings and funerals, I hope they should suffice for a job interview.

Men: Neckties

Men, these are required in my opinion. Unless you are applying for a job as a bouncer at a dive bar or a rodeo clown, a dress shirt and a necktie is the minimum. Even if the job you are applying for doesn’t require such attire on the job, you need to show the interviewer that you are serious and not wasting his or her time. Get out your favorite silk noose and refresh your memory on the Half-Windsor knot.

On a side note, one nice thing about a necktie is that, in many scenarios, it can transform you from business casual to interview-ready in a few twists and turns. This can be helpful if you are rushing to a job interview directly from your current job, where your boss may be suspicious of your newfound interest in wool suits.

Men: Suits

This is a tough call. I would say that a suit is generally a good idea. Obviously, if you are in sales, in law, or work in the financial sector, a suit is a must. In other industries, there are some risks. If you are applying for a job in a very casual work environment, a suit might make you seem too stuffy. If you are applying for an entry-level job, the interviewer might think you are putting on airs.

On the other hand, some years ago when H. Ross Perot was running EDI, I heard that even their call center employees, who never interacted with a client face-to-face, were required to wear suit-and-tie every day. Not even blazer-and-slacks, but suit-and-tie. That’s definitely not a place to show up for an interview underdressed. Understanding the culture of the company should give you a good handle on this; I’ve often asked the receptionist at companies where I’ve interviewed what the dress code is like to get a good sense of this.

Women: Hosiery

This is a topic that, as a man, I know very little about. However, I recently ran across an etiquette survey in the October 2009 issue of Real Simple in which one of the questions was “Do you need to wear panty hose to an interview?” 23% said yes, but 67% said it depends on the workplace. I think this falls in line with men & suits — knowing a little about the company should go a long way in informing your opinion.

Women: Skin (& More)

Perhaps this goes without saying, but dress conservatively. D├ęcolletage is out. Short skirts are out. My wife disagrees, but I say even open-toe shoes are out. Makeup? Conservative. Jewelry? Conservative. Unless you are applying for a position as a cocktail waitress, conservative is the rule.

At the same time, be yourself. If you wear something that isn’t like you at all, you may feel less comfortable–as interviews can be stressful for many people, you want to minimize that as much as possible.

Unisex: An Eye on the Time

Wear a wristwatch, if you have one (and it looks professional). I know we all keep the time on our cell phones now, but wearing a watch implies that you are a punctual person, and to punctual people are attributed a great many other traits, deserved and undeserved, such as: strong work ethic, attention to detail, highly organized.

These are just my guidelines. When in doubt, err on the side of caution, and remember: you are trying to impress people. Wear the dressiest thing you can imagine wearing on that particular job (e.g. meeting with an important client or giving a presentation to the CEO).

My wife says that most of these rules would be ridiculous in Hawai’i (neckties?!). Think I’m way off base? Or know of a case where erring on the side of caution backfired? Say so in the comments.

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One Response to “Dress for Success: What to Wear to an Interview”

  1. chris says:

    I just saw this amusing cartoon today that features both over-dressed and under-dressed interviewees:
    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/interviewees

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