Dress for Success

In an interview your attire plays a supporting role.

Your conduct, your interpersonal skills and your ability to articulate intelligent and well thought out responses to questions are the most important elements.

Be aware that in some industries, customer contact and image presented to the customer is critical. In such industries, your attire will be judged more critically. Your attire should be noticed as being appropriate and well-fitting, but it should not take center stage.

If you are primarily remembered for your interview attire, this is probably because you made an error in judgment!

Dressing nicely and appropriately is a complement to the person you meet, so if in doubt, err on the side of dressing better than you might need to.

Even if you are aware that employees of an organization dress casually on the job, dress up for the interview unless you are specifically told otherwise by the employer.

Never confuse an interview or business function with a social event. Don’t dress for a party or a date.

Not every contact with an employer requires interview attire. For some occasions business casual is appropriate. See business casual for when to wear it and what it is.

Interview Attire Guidelines for Men and Women

Suit: A two piece matched suit is always the best and safest choice

Conservative Colors / Fabric: Navy, dark gray (and black for women) — are safe. Other color trends may come and go; avoid the extremes. Solids or very subtle weave patterns or plaids (the kind that look solid across a room) are safest. Wool is generally the best fabric in all seasons. Avoid acetate / rayon blends

Cost / Quality: You are not expected to be able to afford the same clothing as a corporate CEO. Do invest in quality that will look appropriate during your first two or three years on the job. One good quality suit is sufficient for a job search if that is all your budget allows. You can vary your shirt/blouse tie/accessories

Details: Everything should be clean and well pressed. Carefully inspect clothes for tags, dangling threads, etc.

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Interview Attire Specifics for Men

Suit: A two-piece matched suit is always the best and safest choice. Don’t combine a suit jacket with pants that don’t match

Conservative Colors / Fabric: Navy and dark gray are safe and are the most conservative for men. Black is considered severe or overly formal. Other color trends may come and go; avoid the extremes. Choose a solid or very subtle weave pattern or plaid (the kind that look solid across a room). Wool is the only acceptable fabric for a conservative men’s suit

Cost / Quality: You are not expected to be able to afford the same clothing as a corporate CEO. Do invest in quality that will look appropriate during your first two or three years on the job. One good quality suit is sufficient for a job search if that is all your budget allows. You can vary your shirt and tie

Ties: Tie styles come and go. Select good quality silk ties. Avoid fashion extremes, like character ties, in interviews. Notice what men in your industry wear on the job, at career fairs, at information sessions, when they meet with clients

Shirts: Long-sleeved shirts, even in summer. Choose white or light blue solid, or conservative stripes

Socks: Dark socks, mid-calf length so no skin is visible when you sit down

Shoes: Leather, lace-up or slip-on business shoes, preferably black. Invest in a good pair; even if you don’t wear them daily on the job, you’ll need them for other occasions and you should expect to get lots of years out of good shoes

Belt: Black leather, like your shoes

Facial Hair: If worn, should be well-groomed. Observe men in your industry if you are unsure what’s appropriate or are considering changing your look

Jewelry: Wear a conservative watch. If you choose to wear other jewelry, be conservative. Removing earrings is safest. For conservative industries, don’t wear earrings. Observe other men in your industry to see what is acceptable

Details: Everything should be clean and well pressed. Suits typically have tacking stitches to hold vents — on the jacket back and on sleeves — in place before the garment is purchased. Cut them off if your retailer / tailor doesn’t. And that tag stitched on the outside of your sleeve is not meant to stay there like a Tommy Hilfiger label — cut it off! Carefully inspect clothes dangling threads, etc.

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Interview Attire Specifics for Women

Suit: Wear a two-piece matched suit

Suit – Pants / Skirts: Tailored pants suits are appropriate for women. Pants suits can be an excellent choice for site visits, particularly if the visit involves getting in and out of vehicles and/or the site is (or includes) a manufacturing plant or industrial facility. If you wear pants, they should be creased and tailored, not tight or flowing. If you are pursuing a conservative industry and are in doubt, observe well dressed women in your industry on the job, at career fairs, at information sessions, etc

Skirt Lengths: Your skirt should cover your thighs when you are seated. Showing a lot of thigh makes you look naive at best, foolish at worst. A skirt that ends at the knee when you’re standing looks chic and professional. Longer skirts are professional too; just make sure they are narrow enough not to be billowing, but not so narrow that you can’t climb stairs comfortably. Don’t purchase a skirt or decide on a hem length until you sit in the skirt facing a mirror. That’s what your interviewer will see. Ask yourself whether it will be distracting or reinforce your image as a person who looks appropriate for a business environment or gathering. High slits in skirts are not appropriate. A small back, center slit in a knee-length skirt is appropriate. On a calf length skirt, a slit to the knee to facilitate walking and stair climbing is appropriate

Color / Fabric: Navy, dark gray and black are safe. Other color trends may come and go; avoid the extremes. Women generally have more options with suit color than men. For example, while a women could look conservative in a slate blue or light gray suit, these colors would be inappropriate for men. Choose a solid or very subtle weave pattern or plaid (the kind that look solid across a room). Wool or a wool blend is the best choice. Micro fibers are acceptable

Shirt / Sweaters: Underneath the suit jacket, wear a tailored blouse in a color or small print that coordinates nicely with your suit. A fine gauge, good quality knit shell is also appropriate underneath your suit jacket

Jewelry / Accessories: Wear a conservative watch. Jewelry and scarf styles come and go. Keep your choices simple and leaning toward conservative. Avoid extremes of style and color. If your industry is creative, you may have more flexibility than someone pursuing a conservative industry

Cosmetics: Keep makeup conservative. A little is usually better than none for a polished look. Nails should be clean and well groomed. Avoid extremes of nail length and polish color, especially in conservative industries

Shoes: Shoes should be leather or fabric / microfiber. Shoe styles and heel heights come and go. Choose closed-toe pumps. Regardless of what is in style, avoid extremes. Make certain you can walk comfortably in your shoes

Hosiery: Hosiery should be plainly styled (no patterns), sheer (not opaque), and in neutral colors complementing your suit. Avoid high contrast between your suit and hosiery color.

Purse / Bag: If you carry a purse, keep it small and simple, especially if you also carry a briefcase. Purse color should coordinate with your shoes. You may choose to carry a small briefcase or business-like tote bag in place of a purse. Leather is the best choice for briefcases; microfiber is acceptable.

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Grooming Tips for Everyone

  • Hair should be clean and neat
  • Shoes should be in polished condition. Make sure heels are not worn
  • Details: No missing buttons, no lint; and don’t forget to remove external tags and tacking stitches from new clothes
  • Hands: Clean fingernails
  • Fit: Clothes should be clean, neatly pressed, and fit properly
  • Smell: Perfume or cologne should be used sparingly or not at all. Don’t smell like smoke
  • Padfolios are preferred over a bulky briefcase. A small briefcase is also appropriate. (If you have no reason to carry a briefcase, don’t; you risk looking silly.)
  • Bookbags: leave it at home for an on-site interview. For an on-campus interview, you can leave it in the waiting area.

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