Whether we like it or not, fashion matters when it comes to landing your dream job. When deciding what to wear to a job interview, you obviously want to fit in, but also stand out, which can be a challenge. These days, there’s more to dressing for an interview than 50 shades of grey, and it varies by industry and company and—as superficial as it seems—the what you wear to an interview is crucial, despite the fact that we’d all like to think our resume speaks louder than our pencil skirt.
“First impressions are critical. What you wear is the first thing people see, before you even say a word,” said Barry Drexler, the founder of Expert Interview Coach. “[Hiring managers] evaluate your appearance because they don’t know you yet, and they don’t have a lot to go on.”
It’s during this first interaction that people size you up based on everything from your handshake to your shoes. Whoever’s hiring needs to be able to visualize you in the position they’re trying to fill, but that doesn’t necessarily mean showing up in something extra-conservative.
“Recent grads especially are fish out of water,” says Jill Jacinto, media manager for WORKS by Nicole William, a company dedicated to helping young women find jobs. “They often get advice from their parents who say they need a classic suit. My mom, who hasn’t worked in years, took me suit shopping. And I was taking her advice, which now seems laughable. We need to break away from the power suit mentality.”
So, how do we know what’s appropriate and what’s not? “It’s all about understanding the company culture,” said Ryan Kahn, founder of The Hired Group and MTV’s Hired career coach.
Though everyone we spoke to agreed that overdressed is better than underdressed, that’s not a good look either. “People in creative firms might see you as less creative, a little uptight, not someone who will roll up their sleeves and get dirty,” said Frank Dahill, senior recruiter and branding expert at Sam & Lori Associates, a New York recruitment firm that focuses on creative industries.
Below, our experts weigh in on how you really should dress for a job interview, in 5 different types of fields.
If you’re interviewing for: A creative job
Examples: writer, editor, photo editor, film, graphic designer, art director
Here, a common pitfall is wanting to show personality. “I’m not worried about personality in your clothes. If you have no personality, clothes won’t help. I’d rather see you be more conservative,” says Dahill.
- While you shouldn’t show up in a pantsuit, don’t show up in something totally wild or trend-driven either.
- Jacinto advises “tone it down it down and apply the rule of taking one piece off before the interview.”
- Be comfortable. Jacinto proposes trying your outfit on before the interview to “know how your clothing reacts in different situations.”
- Shoes should be closed toed, pants should be black or dark denim, and accessories kept to a minimum.
If you’re interviewing for: A client-based corporate job:
Examples: law firm, real estate, public relations, sales, marketing, advertising or account executives
- Be well groomed. Don’t wear too much makeup and have your hair clean and simple. Never ever wear perfume.
- Invest in a nice blazer. This can be used to dress up anything from simple blouses to well-cut trousers. Again, shoes should be closed and no higher than three inches.
- Keep the colors conservative, says Kahn. “Keep it classy. Nothing too vibrant, bright or distracting.
If you’re interviewing for: A fashion job:
Examples: Fashion editor, buyer, stylist, designer, merchandiser, assistant, sales
According to Drexler, a mistake people make when interviewing for a fashion-related job is to make a broad-brush statement that they should dress super-trendy or edgy. What you wear here depends on the specific job you’re interviewing for.
- Keep clothes simple and instead make accessories the focal point. Have stylish shoes, a sharp bag and modern jewelry displaying your great taste.
Don’t try to be too fashion-forward. People shouldn’t notice your clothes first, but you in your clothes. You want people to say “she looks presentable and stylish in that dress” as opposed to “wow, that’s a really expensive designer dress.” Clothes shouldn’t be distraction.
If you’re interviewing for: A finance job
Examples: banking, consulting, hedge funds, accounting, insurance, research analyst, stock analyst
In finance, not much has changed. Don’t push the envelope, and appear conservative and professional.
- Wear a dark, two-piece pants suit or skirt suit. Lighten them up with a white or softer colored blouse and conservative accessories.
- Jacinto suggests bringing an extra pair of tights in case they run. “You never know what will happen the day of, so be prepared.”
- On that note, don’t wear colorful or patterned tights, open-toe shoes, super-high heels, or sleeveless tops.
If you’re interviewing for: a tech/startup job
Examples: Engineer, coder, product manager, designer, communications, content strategist, IT
Many startups are full of young people, and many of them foster a very collegiate atmosphere, so the biggest fear people have here is being overdressed in a sea of hipsters.
- Dress a half step up from everyone else. As Dahill says “so the person interviewing you knows you’re dressed up for an interview.”
- However, coming in wearing a suit makes it look like you know nothing about the industry. “If you’re going to a startup in a three-piece piece suit you may say the right things but you look like you’re looking for an environment that’s different, and the company might think they cant offer you want you want,” explains Jacinto.
- Show that you’re serious about the position without being overdressed. Opt for dark denim and a tucked in blouse, or a stylish skirt with a chambray button-down or basic sweater, and accessorize from there.