Deciding what to wear to a job interview can put you in a stressful quandary. On one hand, you know that you always want to look professional and give the impression that you are serious about the company and the position. On the other hand, if your only suit is navy blue and wool and the temperature outside is roughly 80 degrees, you’re probably better off leaving it at home.
Here’s some simple guidelines and tricks to figuring out the correct thing to wear.
Use the Stalker Method. This involves sitting in the parking lot or across the street from the company and watching employees as they walk in in the morning, go to lunch, or are leaving to go home. If you see many men in suits and ties, and the women wearing skirts and suits, then you know it’s business formal and that showing up in less than the best is going to stand out in a bad way. If men are in kakis and polo shirts, and the women are similarly dressed, then you don’t have to go full business formal, but I wouldn’t recommend matching their level of dress. The same goes if you see many people in jeans and pullover sweaters or the equivalent. In this case, you want to look nice, but men should still put on a sport jacket, and for women dress pants with a nice blouse and silk scarf are appropriate. Employees can dress any way they want after they work there, but you want to show that you still respect their time and the company by looking like you put some effort into it. You don’t need to overdress, but never underdress.
Chat up the receptionist. Who better to know what people are wearing than the person who sits at the front desk all day? You can call the receptionist to confirm the company’s street address and nearest intersection, then ask if they have a few minutes. Tell them that you’re coming in for an interview in the next few days, and ask if they can help you get an idea of what people are wearing. He or she should be able to tell you the basics of the dress code, and you can use the above guidelines to decide what is appropriate.
Know the industry. I was speaking with someone recently who is in the restaurant industry. She said that she showed up for job interviews in casual pants and blouses, and all of her interviewers were relieved that she looked like she knew the industry—and that formal business suits are not the norm. If there is an industry standard or if the place you are interviewing is known as very formal or very casual, then use that as your guide.
The Blue Suit/White Shirt/Red Tie (women in skirts) Theory. There are some interview coaches who will tell you to stick to this uniform no matter what. They will insist that studies have shown that this outfit exudes confidence, power and authority. I’m sure that the studies are true, and that people do look great in those suits, but I think it’s more important that you feel comfortable in what you are wearing and that you present a professional image. Dress appropriately for the weather, and wear something that makes you feel powerful and confident. That’s the image of yourself that you want to remain with the interviewer.