Dressing for an interview can be tricky. Here are some tips to let you choose your outfit with confidence.
One of the confusing aspects of interview outfits is that a lot of what’s appropriate depends on your industry. If you’re in finance, for instance, a conservative suit is clearly the way to go, but what about less traditional industries?
In general, the answer is to dress a level above what you would normally wear. So if you’re in a high-tech field and everyone wears cargo shorts to work, a nice pair of slacks or a skirt and a collared shirt should hit the right note. This means, of course, that if you’re new to an industry, you will need to do some research on what’s typical for that industry. Be aware, too, that there are regional differences, so New York City, for instance, is usually more formal than Los Angeles. It’s generally safer to go with the more conservative outfit, but make sure your choice is appropriate for what you will be doing. A $2,000 silk suit would not really suit an elementary school teaching position, for example.
I often advise people to dress as the most conservative versions of themselves for an interview. In other words, what would your grandmother find least objectionable? I also recommend smaller, more conservative jewelry, not big jangly statement pieces, unless those feel fundamental to your sense of who you are. Cover your tattoos and remove most of your piercings if you can do that without feeling like you’re not you. And if you really want to go that extra mile, you can accessorize with a scarf or necktie that has the company’s logo colors, but that may not always be realistic, and to some people it can feel a little like pandering. So use your best judgment! (For cis women, this best judgment thing applies to the bare legs debate, too. In some industries, a skirt and hose will seem fussy and uptight, and in others, that’s the standard battle outfit. And no, you don’t need to wear a skirt if you don’t want to.)
It’s important, though, that your interview outfit not be dated. If you haven’t gotten new clothes in a decade or so, or if your whole outfit is from a thrift store, do a quick reevaluation. Does the jacket have shoulder pads? Can your skirt be described using the words “Holly Hobby”? You may need to bite the ol’ bullet and head to someplace like Nordstrom, with sales floor staff who are there to help you choose.
For folks who are non-binary, the choice of what to wear can be even more confusing. A quick search will yield such things as “How to dress for an interview for women,” which isn’t always helpful. Fortunately, Colorado State University’s career center maintains a fabulous Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.com/maccdc/non-binary-professional-dress/.
Finally, remember to wear comfortable shoes to your interview. Many places like to take candidates on a walking tour, and the last thing you want is to have pinched toes. Closed-toed shoes are considered more formal than sandals. I’m a fan of the loafer and the ballet slipper, but decide what’s comfortable for you.
Ultimately, how we dress is an expression of who we are, so think about which aspects of yourself you’re willing to compromise and which you aren’t. An interview is a strange time, and people do make judgments based on appearance. This can be a real difficulty for many people, and of course it’s not fair. But it’s also the world we live in, so know your needs and values. For many people, being not considered for a job because of something like an Goth jewelry or an afro is a price they’re willing to pay, and an employer who can see their value anyway is likely to be a good fit. So take everyone else’s advice (yes, even mine) with a grain of salt. The decision, and the responsibility, is yours.
Before you go, I also want to let you know about my exciting fall special. For September only, I am offering $100 off the Downer Job to Dream Career Program, and an additional 3 resume reviews! Sign up for a free initial consultation before September 30, 2019, to qualify. To learn more about the program, please visit https://www.denvercareercatalyst.com/offerings/.