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What to Wear to a Job Interview 2008-09-19 09:30:45

Ask Savvy: What Should I Wear to a Job Interview?

Q: Dear Savvy,

I have an advanced degree in Science and Engineering and am currently job hunting. I keep seeing and hearing conflicting reports about what to wear to my interviews. Any advice?

A: Office attire seems to be a common theme this week — the Project Runway contestants certainly had some interesting and varied ideas of what attire is appropriate for a college graduate entering the working world. Some of their creations may have passed once you've been established as an employee, but figuring out what to wear on an interview is more pressing because it's all about making your best first impression. See my tips for interview appropriate attire when you


The general rule for interview attire is to dress one step up from the company's dress code (unless of course their dress code is formal). So, if employees adhere to business casual guidelines, than you should choose to wear a suit for your interview. Likewise, if you're interviewing in a casual office you'll want to dress one step up. I don't recommend wearing jeans to an interview, even if they are your dressy denim.

I find that a well-tailored (but not mini-length!) dress can be a great solution when you're interviewing in a casual office. If you're someone who is more comfortable in pants, then wear a freshly-pressed pair of pants that are more dressed up than jeans and a top that is conservative but not stiff. And if you're not sure of the dress code? Call the office's main number and ask the receptionist!

Do any of you have additional job interview attire advice? Please share!


Join The Conversation
lollofit lollofit 6 years
My current boss recently confessed to me that she knew she wanted to hire me based on my friendliness and my outfit when I dropped off my application! Here I'd thought she barely had time to look at me... Cute tweed skirt with heels, button down shirt and a sweater. Don't forget to wear good shoes and accessorize a little- makes for a good finishing touch to think of how you look from head to toe right when you walk in the door. (she also said she ruled someone out partially based on the presence of mud on their shoes when it hadn't rained for weeks)
designerel designerel 8 years
OK well for those of you in the editorial/writing field, the companies tend to be more business casual. I recently went on interviews with a couple of editing firms and wore a very simple getup-- tailored black trousers, black belt, black pumps and a white button-down, tucked into my pants. It looks a lot more polished that way. I did have a bright red peacoat for one of the interviews (just to make more of an impression) and my white button-down for the second interview was more trendy-- it was puffy-sleeved with a huge bow around the neck. Bottom line, keep it simple, but have one interesting detail about your outfit that makes an impression (hopefully your interviewer is a woman and would notice these things, haha).
demodiva demodiva 8 years
I've hired quite a few people for jobs at offices with business casual attire, and I'd never look at anyone who wasn't wearing a suit. Likewise, large jewelry or bright colors are definite no-no's. Also, I live in the south, and down here I've discovered that if you are a woman and want to be taken seriously, you need to wear pants. Your interview should be about what you have to offer the company, not your attire. Wearing subdued colors etc. helps bring that all into focus. The other thing that I've found is that if you dress more professionally than your peers while ON the job, you tend to get promoted faster.
PrincesaJenE PrincesaJenE 8 years
I've worked in the employment services field for several years - its my job to know this stuff so I thought I'd share. When determining what to wear for an interview - adhere to the "Follow Suit Rule" - See what the company is wearing and follow suit. I always suggest a candidate do a "drive by" of the company. Sit in the parking lot see what employees coming out are wearing or if you dare, go in, pick up a business card or brochure and take a peak around. If employees are wearing suits you do the same. A little less formal, you be a LITTLE less formal. For those of us with personality, combine your personal style with your suit or other attire like many of you all suggested (bright colored top, cute shoes, funky jewelry)Something that makes you stand out. The follow suit rule is particularly helpful when it comes to non typical jobs. For instance in many jobs in the medical field it is appropriate to come to the interview in scrubs. The key there is making sure your scrubs match the office (solid colors, dark colors, cartoon caracters, etc.) Whatever you wear - make sure it is neat, clean, and comfortable. Iron your clothes, clean your shoes,easy on the makeup, not too much boobage, too tight or too loose. What you wear is often a first impression and can often play a significant role on whether or not they put you in the go or no pile. Being pleased by the aesthetics will make a potential employer more open to the wonderful things you plan to share about yourself during the interview. Never wear jeans! Remember that employers are considering that after a month or two you will start to slack on your professional appearance. It aint gettin' any better than what they see in the interview. Employers will tend to imagine how you will look a step or 2 down from how you present yourself at the interview after a couple of months on the job. Is the dressed down you someone who could properly represent their company? Goodluck!!!
alwayswearhose alwayswearhose 8 years
ALWAYS wear hose! Take it from a successful male. Women look their professional best in skirt, heels, and HOSIERY!
randal randal 8 years
Everyone should wear whatever makes them feel comfortable. If you are boiling inside a suit or your feet are swelling from wearing high-heel shoes, this is going to be a distraction and annoyance. Dress the way you normally would (sans jeans) and a decent pair of shoes. The only no-no is wearing anything with dirt/stains. If the company doesn't like your "look," well, screw them. You don't want to work for a bunch of stiffs anyway -- not over the long run. You are just as likely to give a good first impression by expressing yourself and showing confidence by ignoring the dress-up advice in this column. People like independent thinkers, creative people, self-confident people. Show 'em you aren't afraid. Of course if you are applying for an executive position or a position with a major CPA firm, you are already on the road to forfeiting your individuality.
True-Song True-Song 8 years
Agreed, suit every time. You'll never be faulted for being overdressed. I know of at least one company that is business casual, allows jeans, but will not even bother with a second interview for someone who doesn't bother to wear a suit.
Ms--Anonymous Ms--Anonymous 8 years
i'm a big fan of either the blazer with a bright top underneath and some slacks or the black pencil skirt, nice blouse and a pop of color with accessories which usually involves big or colorful earrings...i don't like the idea of smuggling my own personal style just because i'm in a professional setting. i think one should find a balance....and i've never heard any complaints before so i'll keep on keeping on =)
Sugarblonde Sugarblonde 8 years
Sugarblonde Sugarblonde 8 years
I always wear suits to interviews. (From D.C. too). Only thing as wearing a skirt to an interview as a woman---have to make sure for it not be short, wear pantyhose, shoes are appropriate & polished, etc. I think that is why I normally stick to wearing pants, just easier :) Though I do like sometimes wearing a ruffly or cute shirt underneathe the blazer as long as it is not too loud or distracting.
christie christie 8 years
I wear dark brown pants with an either blue/red/white blouse and closed toed shoes. Sometimes I wear pinstriped pants and a plain blouse. I live in Texas and suits are just impractical in the south, very few people except lawyers even bother and half the time, they skip the jacket as well.
RRKenney RRKenney 8 years
When I was looking for my first job out of grad school I tried on a LOT of suits before I found one that fit well and looked great. The one I finally went with was a brown tweed, the fabric is unique but the cut is classic. I have gotten so many compliments on this suit and I got a job soon after. If the dress at the workplace isn't formal I think that a suit with personality can go a long way.
imcs imcs 8 years
dress for the position you want to have in 5-10 years, not the one you're applying for. In other words, dress for an executive position even if you're applying to work in the mail room. This advice was given to me by several HR managers in Fortune 500 companies. I am baffled by the number of people who don't wear suits to an interview. If the person does not present themselves well to interview with me, what makes me think they'll dress well to meet clients.
SugarKat SugarKat 8 years
I have my "interview" suit + shirt. It's a blue and white button down shirt and a black suite. I think that whatever you wear should be thought about and you should feel confident in it. As an interviewer...I notice what people were wearing. The top two people we interviewed for this last job, one was wearing a suit and the other was very business casual. I believe she was even wearing suit pants. How you present yourself to the boss is how you'll be later... However, I heard that if you dress in a suit to a job at Microsoft, you WON'T get the job. Period. I don't know if that's true or not though...
CoralAmber CoralAmber 8 years
I used to wear a pinstripe skirt suit when I was younger, and I think employers were impressed that someone young was taking the interview seriously. Now I almost always wear slacks, a button up shirt in a fun color (purple or teal), and sometimes a cute business vest. A skirt is usually impractical for the job and might be considered a bit too sexy if I'm going to be working with teens (and I'm almost always interviewed by women). I agree that it's good to wear a unique piece of jewelry that helps pull your look together.
shepptacular shepptacular 8 years
The sciences is a little different if you thinking academia or laboratory because they dress so casually that an actual suit might be considered overboard.
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
it's really funny how people stress so much about what to wear to an interview. my old assistant was going on an interview and she called me freaking out about what to wear. she said that her aunt and mom said that she had to wear a skirt suit in black or navy and that anything else wasn't going to be professional - and i had to remind her that we work in advertising, so there's no reason to be that limited. we're in NYC and it's ok to wear a pants suit and it's ok to put color into the outfit as well - we're in a fun and funky industry and as long as you don't go in wearing jeans, you're ok. she was really happy that i said that and i think that she felt better about herself at her interview.
baybug baybug 8 years
I always wear a suit. I just want to keep it all professional!
thelorax thelorax 8 years
Cebca - I have a long, full, freakin' lion's mane of curly blonde hair. Here's what I do when my schedule for the day involves looking particularly professional: You probably know as well as I do that natural curls can be easily twisted into an updo that looks effortlessly polished. I'd definitely recommend doing that. If you have flyaway pieces, either work with them if they frame your face nicely, or add a ribbon or headband to smooth them down.
Cebca Cebca 8 years
Okay but here's a question: what about interview HAIR? I am going to be interviewing for medical school and the attire is definitely suit suit suit, classic, black or navy, conservative. But I have shoulder length curly blonde hair and I have no idea what to do with it for interviews. I don't like how it looks blow-dried, and as a result never blow-dry it and dont have a brush/dryer/straightener/anything. But I feel like curly hair worn down always looks a little messy, and at the very least is totally unpredictable, so if my last interview is at 4 pm theres no way my hair is going to look the same as it did when I left my house at 8 am for my campus day. Anyone have good suggestions/recommendations/experience with this??
chibarosa chibarosa 8 years
I had a job interview last week, and I wore a suit - but when I was trying to decide which purse to match it, my husband said "Don't take a purse. Just walk in carrying your portfolio. Your minimalism will blow their minds." I took his advice and got the job. I mean, I aced the interview - it wasn't the whole no-purse thing that clinched it, but it was nice not to worry about keeping up with my stuff. I just put my car key in my pocket, and my pen and paperwork were in my portfolio. It was very freeing, actually. No baggage (literally).
goatimpact goatimpact 8 years
As someone who also has an advanced science degree, I always go with the dark colored suit with pants. Depending on the company, I carry a more modern purse but I always have on professional shoes, button down shirt in a subdued color and conservative jewelery. My friends in marketing and other more "creative" fields can get away with making a statement with their outfit. However, in science, there is a stereotype of the more unfashionable you dress, the better the scientist. I'm not advising to purposely look bad but to look flawless and businesslike, especially important if you are female. Often you can find good advice for your particular field on the websites of the professional societies (i.e. the American Chemical Society).
melizzle melizzle 8 years
Always a suit. But depending on the job, I change it up. For my more, stuffy, corporate jobs, I've worn the full-blown formal getup. But for the more creative positions, I'll do a suit, but with some kind of unexpected twists, like a long funky t-shirt, statement jewelery and cute flats.
GeriAnne1932 GeriAnne1932 8 years
Oh, one more thing that kinda goes without saying is that make sure whatever you wear FITS! Something too tight, too low cut, or too big says compete opposite messages of dressing nice. If you wear a blazer or a suit coat and you can't button it or it's too tight in the sleeves, you'll be uncomfortable and look terrible.
rocketgirl rocketgirl 8 years
I generally stick with nice black slacks, low black heels and a button-up shirt. It looks nice enough to blend in with the men in suits but not so dressy that I don't even resemble myself. (Blazers make me look younger for some reason.)
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