Nailing the First Impression: What to Wear for a Job Interview
To help you make a positive first impression at your job interview, we asked fourteen professionals, including CEOs and HR consultants, for their top tips on dressing appropriately. From researching the company culture and dress code to matching or even exceeding the employer’s dress formality, these experts provide invaluable advice to help you stand out for all the right reasons.
- Research Company Culture and Dress Code
- Balance Between Casual and Extravagant Dressing
- Maintain Professionalism While Showing Uniqueness
- Opt for Professional Attire and Detail Attention
- Align Attire with Confidence and Energy
- Inquire Through LinkedIn
- Avoid Distractions, Opt for a Suit
- Choose Comfortable, Respectful Formal Wear
- Mirror Company’s Elements in Attire
- Go for Classic, Timeless Look
- Consult Recruiter About Dress Code
- Be More Formal Than Company’s Code
- Dress Appropriately for the Industry
- Match or Exceed Employer’s Dress Formality
Research Company Culture and Dress Code
First, do your research on the company—a tech startup is going to have a very different culture and dress code than a financial institution. When hiring, companies want to find the right-fit candidate for their specific culture, and first impressions matter. Like it or not, you will be judged on your initial appearance, and assumptions will be made about who you are and how well you mesh with the company culture.
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is if a suit, tie, or dress should be worn. In the end, it’s best to err on the side of being conservative and overdressed versus underdressed.
Balance Between Casual and Extravagant Dressing
I can share that underdressed candidates are not a common sight. No one shows up in a t-shirt and jeans, at least. However, it’s important to advise interviewees not to go too far in the other direction. Dressing too nicely can be just as big a faux pas.
For instance, an applicant once asked if a lavender suit would be interview-appropriate. Not having seen such a thing, a photo was requested, and upon receiving it, a prompt “No” was sent back.
It’s not that the applicant didn’t look fantastic, and for a nighttime event, it would have been very avant-garde. But when interviewing, it’s best to stick with something more mundane; let your experience and skills shine, instead of your clothes.
Maintain Professionalism While Showing Uniqueness
Maintain professionalism while staying true to yourself! During the interview process, potential future employers have the opportunity to learn more about you and assess your compatibility with their organizational culture. Don’t be afraid to show them who you are and what sets you apart from the rest of the candidates.
Additionally, being your authentic self will help you feel more comfortable during a job interview. Be confident, be yourself, and show them why you are going to be a great fit for their organization.
Opt for Professional Attire and Detail Attention
The phrase “your first impression is your last impression” holds true, especially in the context of job interviews. When preparing for an interview, it’s essential to exude confidence and professionalism.
One of the paramount factors in creating a favorable first impression is your choice of attire. My personal recommendation is to consistently opt for business-formal wear. For both men and women, donning a well-fitted suit with a jacket is the safest and most effective choice. A boost in confidence is what you get when you dress well; what you wear significantly impacts how you feel. Dressing professionally not only enhances your appearance but also bolsters your self-assurance, reflecting positively throughout the interview. Attention to detail is another factor; a polished appearance highlights your attention to detail, a trait highly regarded by most employers.
Punctuality, research, confidence, preparation, and effective communication are also important. By mastering these elements, you can significantly enhance your chances of leaving a positive impression.
Align Attire with Confidence and Energy
I’ve found that dressing for a job interview goes beyond just the clothes. It’s about embracing the energy and confidence you want to convey. I recommend choosing an outfit that aligns with the company’s culture but elevates it a notch.
For example, if the company is casual, maybe go for a polished version of casual. When I hire for my team, I always appreciate when someone has taken the time to present themselves in a way that shows they understand our culture but also brings their personality. Remember, your attire is an extension of your personal brand, which often gives the first impression about yourself.
Inquire Through LinkedIn
You never want to arrive over- or underdressed to an interview because it may leave you feeling awkward. When you are contacted to schedule the in-person interview, ask them whether they want to see you “suited up” or in business casual. If they choose not to respond, contact someone who works for them through LinkedIn and ask what the dress culture is like because you have an upcoming interview. People will usually help.
Avoid Distractions, Opt for a Suit
Despite what DEI advocates would have you believe, most biases are not unconscious. Although hiring managers strive to be objective, they are, alas, human. And each human harbors and is often distinctly aware of fashion choices that can derail a first impression.
Unfortunately, you can’t know what’s inside someone else’s head. Does your casual attire align with the company culture, or is it a sign of disrespect? Does that nose ring speak to your individualism, or does it serve as a distraction? And what about that green mohawk—is it a sign of creativity and confidence, or a symptom of insecurity?
Skills should be the only factor worth evaluating, but humans don’t operate with such discipline. Your move? Avoid distractions and wear a suit. Interviews are still formal affairs. You never lose points for overdressing.
Choose Comfortable, Respectful Formal Wear
Opt for formal wear, regardless of the business dress code exercised at the interview site. Unless you’re explicitly told how you should dress, craft a dignified look that displays professionalism and respect for the role being presented to you.
Make sure the attire is business-professional, comfortable, and that you’ve tried on the outfit before the actual day of the interview. Sitting with an uncomfortable outfit can distract during an important meeting that can determine your professional fate. Your chosen outfit will communicate your self-care and judgment to others.
Questionable outfits on men and women have cost them future follow-up interviews with an employer due to lack of care. If you can’t exercise self-care and focus when selling yourself to others, then it’s a red flag for others to trust you with any decision-making delegation in the workplace.
Sasha Laghonh, Founder, Sasha Talks
Mirror Company’s Elements in Attire
I’ve seen firsthand the importance of aligning attire with company values. Candidates who took the time to understand our ethos and reflect that in their dress often made the most lasting, positive impressions.
While we promote an active lifestyle, a job interview isn’t the time for gym shorts. Instead, opt for a smart-casual look that subtly incorporates sporty elements, showcasing both professionalism and alignment with our brand. Your attire should mirror the company’s culture, acting as a visual cue of your fit within the organization.
Go for a Classic, Timeless Look
Please go for a classic, timeless look instead of trying to stand out with your style. A job interview is not the best time to express your personality through your clothing choices.
I remember a personal experience when I interviewed a candidate for a marketing position. The candidate arrived wearing a vibrant and unconventional outfit, which immediately attracted attention. Sadly, his look didn’t make a good first impression; he didn’t seem serious, which somewhat overshadowed the interview.
Consult Recruiter About Dress Code
Ask the recruiter what the dress code is (if not on the website) and what they would suggest as appropriate for an interview at the organization. Recruiters want you to be successful and will be happy that you asked if you are unsure. That way, you will not find yourself under- or overdressed for your interview.
Be More Formal Than Company’s Code
One suggestion for dressing appropriately to make a positive first impression in a job interview is to “dress slightly more formally than the company’s dress code.”
This approach ensures that you present yourself as polished and professional, regardless of the company’s typical attire. It demonstrates your respect for the interview process and your understanding of the importance of making a positive impression.
For instance, if the company has a business-casual dress code, consider wearing a suit and tie or a professional dress or blouse with slacks or a skirt. If the company leans more towards business-formal attire, opt for a conservative suit with minimal accessories.
Remember that it’s generally better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed for an interview. Your attire should reflect your seriousness about the opportunity and your respect for the company and the interviewers.
Dress Appropriately for the Industry
First impressions matter. Whether we like it or not, we are judged on our appearance before we have a chance to speak. While it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, it’s helpful to dress appropriately for the industry you’re interviewing with.
A suit might be overkill in the construction industry, but a nice shirt and slacks or a skirt with conservative shoes would be appropriate. Keeping jewelry and makeup subtle, along with groomed hair, is a safe bet for most environments. A job interview may not be the ideal time to express your individuality through your physical appearance.
Match or Exceed Employer’s Dress Formality
The conventional wisdom is to at least match, if not go one step above, the formality of whatever the dress code is at your potential employer. That’s great advice but how do you figure out what they’re wearing in the first place?
If any networking has been done ahead of the interview, circle back to those contacts and ask them what to expect. Sharing the names of the interviewers to see if they can give person-specific advice could be beneficial.
No networking contacts? Then it would be a good idea to ask whoever has helped set up this interview (recruiter, HR contact, hiring manager, etc.) what the typical dress code is, so it can be matched or even exceeded.
And finally, since we live in a digital world, if the interview is virtual, think about what part of the outfit is visible. Just the waist up? Then feel free to rock the Zoom mullet (business on the top, party on the bottom), just remember not to stand up! Or go full professional if that’s what is needed to feel ready.