When you show up for a job interview, you’re trying to make a good impression. You got in the door because you wowed them with your resume. Heck, you hired a professional to write it. So what you wear has to be on par with your impressive resume.
As much as you hope people will hire you for your experience and ingenuity, your outfit can harpoon your chances before you even have a seat.
“I was working with a client a number of years ago who arrived at my office for our first meeting wearing a tube top,” says Roy Cohen, a career counselor and executive coach in New York City.
“She was, and is, an attorney and is considered an expert in her area of specialization. At the time, she was interviewing for a partner position at a number of firms and couldn’t understand why she was failing to move beyond the initial meeting.”
To help you get called back for round two, know what not to wear to an interview:
Even if your interview is held in an informal setting, it doesn’t mean you can dress like you’re going to a backyard barbecue.
“Attire that is always inappropriate for a job interview includes flip flops, wedge sandals, ripped jeans or shorts, tank tops, halter tops, sandals, strapless tops and dresses, and athletic attire like yoga pants and sneakers,” says Devoreaux Walton, an etiquette expert and founder of TheModernLady.com.
She says it shows your potential boss that you don’t take the job seriously enough to dress the part.
“Always err on the side of overdressing,” says Melissa Coleman, an executive recruiter. “You can always take off a jacket or tie or accessories.”
You may not think it matters if you’re swimming in your clothes, but a recruiter may have a different opinion.
“Do yourself a favor and wear pants and jackets that fit properly,” says Temeka Thompson, president and career coach with Next Level Solutions.
“Take your garments to your local dry cleaner or tailor so they can properly hem and tailor your clothing. If you appear sloppy, the hiring manager may perceive that the work you produce is also sloppy.”
Those shoes might look amazing, but if they’re pinching your toes and rubbing blisters into your heels, they’re not worth it.
“When your feet hurt, it shows on your face,” says Felicia Johnson of performance coaching company Sevenfold Coaching.
“It impacts your confidence level, and you’re distracted during the interview, because you’re thinking about your feet.”
It used to be that you always went to an interview in an interview suit, but today a suit can seem awkward unless you’re interviewing for a job in a more formal industry.
“Unless you’re going into the finance industry or legal fields, why show up in a suit?” says Danica Kombol, CEO of social media marketing firm Everywhere Agency.
“It’s off-putting. I think the best thing a potential hire can do is to conduct some wardrobe recon. Check out the firm’s Facebook page and get a sense of what the attire is of the employees.”
Another way to check out the culture? “Drive by and park in the parking lot a few days before to see what people are wearing,” says Mike Smith, founder of staffing firm SalesCoaching1. “I would suggest you dress at least one level up from that.”
No matter how good you think your perfume or cologne smells, wearing it could backfire.
“It could be overbearing to someone with sensitive allergies,” says Noelle Johnson, owner of interview prep company My Interview Buddy.
“Also, scents trigger memories, and this can work against you. I had a hiring manager once have zero feedback on a candidate because he couldn’t stop thinking of his ex-wife—same perfume. Keep it neutral.”
Our suggestion: skip fragrance for interview day and let the sweet smell of success fill the air instead.
Wild or bright prints can be jarring to an interviewer, as can your shoulder-length chandelier earrings. Keep the noisy or chunky jewelry for another occasion.
“I interviewed a candidate who showed up to their interview wearing a small fortune of bangles and bracelets on their wrists,” says Zachary Vickers, hiring manager and resume expert at Resume Companion.
“Normally, I wouldn’t have thought twice about how someone chose to accessorize, but the sound of metal clinking and clanking, every single time they gestured with their hands, was completely distracting.”
If you’re interviewing for a conservative company, you might consider covering tattoos and piercings as well—at least until you get a feel for the place. “However unfair, you will be judged based upon your body art and not your ability,” Cohen says.
“Even in our casual society, for professional positions, candidates should be dressed in a conservative manner,” says David Schein, director of graduate programs and associate professor at the Cameron School of Business at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.
That means being cognizant of necklines, hemlines, and the way your clothes fit.
“If there’s even a slight question that something might be too low-cut or short or tight, change,” says Paul DeNigris, head of VC relationships with BAM Communications.
“It’s best not to risk it with that sort of thing as you never know who you will be interviewing with.”
“If you are debating what to wear, send pictures to your inner circle and ask them which one is more ‘you,’” says Ashley Adair, founder and Chief People Coach of Blue Shoes Leadership. “You’ll be surprised at how quickly your circle will be able to identify the better choice.”
And keep in mind that your clothes are only part of your interview package—you also need to ace the questions.
Need some help in that department? We’ve got you covered. Join Paruto Jobs for free today. As a member, you’ll get career advice and job-search tips—including how to answer those tricky interview questions—sent straight to your inbox. We’ll help you look smart, so you can put your best polished foot forward.
Amplifying Opportunities, Changing Lives