Dressing for Success in Interviews
Posted by The Editors on June 15, 2011
Chances are, you already know the conventional wisdom when it comes to dressing for interviews. Wear a suit, right? While following that advice is unlikely to get you disqualified from any job, the more pre-interview research you do, the better your chances of looking the part.
Here are three factors that every job seeker should consider before setting foot in the recruiter’s office:
1. Culture. You'll want to consider not only the culture of the company and industry that you're searching in, but also the prevailing norms of the department or division with which you'll be interviewing. For instance, the finance department of a newspaper is bound to be more buttoned-up than its editorial department.
2. Location. To make things even more complicated, the location of the company might also have an impact on employees' dress. Take a Web company: If it's located in New York City's Silicon Alley, it might tend towards the more conservative side of business casual, but if it's located in San Francisco's South Park, a tie and sports coat might make you stick out like a sore thumb.
3. Experience. Your experience and the level of the job you are applying for will also affect your ideal mode of dress. For an entry-level candidate, the objective is to come across as capable and mature. A mid-career candidate, on the other hand, may want to accentuate his or her adaptability to a new office culture by foregoing the generic corporate uniform.
Once you’ve taken the above into account, there are some basic style guidelines for men and women. Again, these will need to be tailored according to the culture, location, and experience, but generally speaking, the below guidelines are a good starting point.
For a professional look, most women swear by a dark pant or skirt suit and modest heels, and recruiters of all stripes seem to agree that a candidate can’t go wrong with a well-tailored suit in a neutral color (black, navy, or gray are your best bets). At more conservative companies—such as investment banks and consulting firms—a skirt suit is de rigueur, and anything other than non-textured nude hose and heels is pushing the envelope of what’s acceptable. Otherwise, a tasteful pantsuit with medium-heeled leather loafers will look put-together and professional. Minimal makeup and non-flashy jewelry can help you look and feel your best in an interview, but are not required.
For men, a suit in a dark, neutral color; a white or blue dress shirt; and a silk tie in a conservative pattern should do just fine. Stick to natural fabrics such as wool and cotton. “Well-heeled” generally implies a pair of polished, not-ground-down-at-the-heels leather shoes in black or brown. Beyond that, wingtips send a more conservative signal while shoes with lug or platform soles are more funky than professional. Don’t fall victim to the white-socks-with-dress-shoes syndrome that plagues many unfortunate men, and be sure your socks pass the elasticity test—saggy socks won’t score you any points.