Don’t be pulling out your fall-back suit and white shirt just yet. When selecting the right interview attire, you need to know there are as many wrong ways to dress for an interview as there are industries to find work in.
You’ve got the interview date and time set for the hot new job, and you’ve naturally prepared the right questions to ask and have practiced all your answers to the most common interview questions. Sweet. But wait a minute.
To start off I’ll share a story about myself, which is precisely how not to try to create a great first impression. I was brand new to an area on the BC North Coast. Having been hired remotely from Vancouver via phone interviews only, I arrived in this northern coastal community on fire with ideas, overwhelmed with the prospects of working with adventure tourism operators while also promoting BC’s amazing north coast culture.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
My new wardrobe was fantastic and I loved everything I owned, yet all I achieved was to put myself at a distinct disadvantage when it came to building relationships. Did anyone else on the north coast dress anything like me? Of course not. Instead everyone just looked at me with that quirky kind of expression that said, I wonder why the heck she’s gotten all dressed up when there’s nowhere to go but here?
And that my friends is a negative first impression. Right away they didn’t see me as a ‘fit’ for their culture and workplace environments. It makes me laugh now but feeling like a (pardon the pun) fish out of water wasn’t fun at the time.
Lesson learned? Heed the advise of career professionals like Barry Drexler, the founder of Expert Interview Coach who so sagely says …
What you wear is the first thing people see, before you even say a word.
No need for you to make the same fashion faux pas. Finding out what people wear to work before you go for your interview will go a long way towards scoring points for interview smarts, hence common sense (and excuse me, but what employer doesn’t have common sense at the very top of their skills wish list?).
What you need to know about interview attire wherever you’re headed.
Regardless of how casual you see people going to work, that’s probably not how you want to make your very first impression.
If the environment is casual, dress business casual. If it’s suit and tie, pull out the black or navy suit. The key is to balance the right mix of respect and awareness for the environment you’re going into, and to always play it safe with basic and conservative for the first interview.
Dress for the job you want, not the one you already have.
What Does Business Casual Really Mean?
Relating to or denoting a style of clothing that is less formal than traditional business wear, but is still intended to give a professional and businesslike impression.
According to Business Insider, when considering right interview attire, very few people actually know what business casual means. According to Darlene Price of Well Said, Inc during her 20 plus years working as an executive coach…One of the most frequent career roadblocks she has observed is in appropriate dress in the workplace.
Business casual dress code encourages employees to project a professional, business-like image.
Essentials for Business Casual:
Black or dark fitted jeans and skirt
Layer pieces (think tanks or vests over shirts, cardigans, etc)
Flats or pumps (closed toes say business), Blazers (unstructured – nothing too tailored or form fitted)
Accessories – jewelery, scarves, belts, handbags – can be very affordable and go a long way to add unique and personal flare to any outfit.
Think conservative and classic when choosing business corporate. This is your textbook suit in right interview attire. Choose traditional colors – blues and greys are ideal, and black only if you’re interviewing for a management role. According to one of my favorite career advice sites, The Muse, here are the staples for a classic corporate look (think professional roles in government, banking, real estate, sales, public relations, finance, law firms, etc).
What’s the Right Color to Wear to Your Interview?
Blue = credible and trustworthy. The ultimate safe choice for a solid first impression– and the number one reason so many banks, lawyers and insurance companies incorporate blue in their logos.
Brown= comfort, practical and reliable, but can also say that you’re not very creative or may even go as far as to look too laid back. Avoid looking staid.
Black = leadership. Black ranks highest on the ‘authority’ scale so perhaps better for management interviews.
Red = bold, assertive, powerful, even dangerous. Perhaps not the right message for a first impression. It can be very effective in the right context but carefully consider the industry before choosing it for a first interview, and definitely use it in moderation. You don’t want to come off as domineering or heaven forbid, rebellious.
Gray = logical and analytical. Are you applying for a bookkeeping or estimating role? Gray is the number one color of choice for employers in these fields. You’ll want to add a few accessories to get off the boring banker bandwagon though.
Orange = carefree and unprofessional, best avoided altogether for interview attire. Save it for your next vacation or weekend outing.
White = organized and detail-oriented. Come one, who else can pull off wearing white to an interview and actually get there and still looking clean?
Purple & Yellow = artistic, unique, creative and optimistic … ditto what we said about orange, not right for the first interview.
Right Interview Attire Grooming Basics:
Last but not Least … don’t leave home without checking these ssentials:
Shoes clean, shined and in good repair (no missing lifts on your heels)
Perfume Never never never (no never!) wear it – most environments strongly discourage perfume due to increasing allergic reactions.
Make-up & Hair The way you wear your hair to an interview can be as important as the clothes you wear. Play it safe with basic and conservative.
Teeth If you eat before your interview make sure you check your teeth for bits of food. Nothing can destroy a great smile faster than a piece of broccoli wedged in one of your front teeth.
Vehicle If you’re going to a small business with street access, chances are they will see you pulling up. Run your car through the car wash on your way to the interview. You’ll feel better driving up and this also lets them know you pay attention to the details!
More resources for Interview Style Tips
Search Pinterest for Business Casual Suggestions
Learn More About the Silent Language of Color
What to Wear to a Job Interview: Expert Tips for Every Industry
30 Chic & Stylish Interview Outfits for Ladies
Barbara Ashton is President and Chief Recruiter atAshton & Associates Recruiting Inc. A senior executive search consultant with over 30 years experience helping businesses to hire outstanding employees. She is a leading social recruiter with close to 13,000 LinkedIn followers.
Ashton & Associates Recruiting … Helping you hire right. Every time.