Employers apply a few metrics when scoring applicants, and dressing is one of those metrics. As a result, deciding what to wear to a job interview can sometimes be as difficult as writing the application in the first place. The challenge often lies in not knowing whether your attire will persuade or dissuade the interviewer that you can dress the part when given the job. Fortunately, dressing professionally to your interview can convince your prospective employer that you're serious and a great fit for the position.
In this article, we explore your options of what to wear to a job interview – and the items to avoid – so you make the best first impression possible.
Related: How To Make a Great First Impression
What are the first steps to deciding what to wear to a job interview?
Start by researching the company
Deciding what to wear to a job interview begins with research. If you're not already familiar with the company's dress code, try to obtain the relevant information from its social media accounts or its website. If your interview is at a large organisation with a dedicated HR department, you can even show initiative and call them to ask about the dress code. This proactive move will demonstrate your eagerness to succeed in the interview.
Dress right for your industry
Here are some suggestions for the appropriate attire to wear for interviews in certain industries. As a rule, a corporate interview in the finance, healthcare and sales sectors will often require wearing a suit for men and either a pantsuit or a tailored business dress for women. Meanwhile, your personality is perhaps your biggest asset for a job in the media or creative industries. So, you can be a bit more adventurous and show your personality through a patterned outfit or unique accessories.
Also, when interviewing candidates for a retail position, management will always look favourably on a potential employee who wears the store's products, or dresses on-trend, to the job interview. For example, wearing a Country Road–inspired dress to an interview at Country Road can make you appear as loyal.
However, business casual attire is usually the best, or safest, option when deciding what to wear to a job interview. It works for most job interviews regardless of the sector – including the hospitality, trade or childcare industry.
What exactly does business casual mean?
Business casual is less formal than traditional business wear but gives a professional and businesslike impression. It is more dressy than jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers, yet less formal than a suit and tie.
As it's commonly a company's default dress code, a business casual outfit is the safest option when deciding what to wear to a job interview. And even if your business casual outfit is a bit fancier than required, you'll still be okay regarding the dressing criterion. In fact, some HR specialists recommend being slightly overdressed for an interview rather than risking being underdressed.
Building the perfect business casual outfit for women
Here are the exact clothing and accessories you need to build an appropriate business casual outfit for women.
A professional blouse with dress pants or a skirt
Firstly, when choosing what to wear to a job interview, pairing a professional and conservative blouse with either dress pants or a skirt is a great option. The top doesn't have to be a button-down either, although that's always a safe choice. Usually, the blouse should be in a neutral colour or a subtle print, as you don't want it to be too distracting. Also avoid plunging necklines, ill-fitting tops and thin-strapped singlets.
Another option is to pair your blouse with a blazer or fitted cardigan for a professional touch. Match them with well-fitting dress pants or a knee-length pencil skirt in a neutral colour.
A dress or jumpsuit
An alternative women's business casual outfit for a job interview is a dress or a tailored jumpsuit. A trendy maxi dress won't work in this instance. Instead, stick to a neutral colour palette and avoid plunging necklines, short hems, cutouts and loud prints.
A pair of closed-toe flats, loafers or low-heeled sandals are the ideal shoes for a business casual outfit. Avoid scuffed and dirty shoes, as well as thongs, excessively high heels and bright-coloured shoes.
The best accessory to complement business casual attire is simple jewellery. This includes a single pair of hoop or stud earrings and one simple accompanying necklace or bracelet. Also, you want to avoid jewellery that's distracting or noisy. For other accessories, pair your outfit with a plain belt if needed and a neutral handbag. If you decide to wear nail polish, choose a muted colour and make sure it's not chipped.
Whether you wear your hair down or up, ensure it's neatly brushed. A natural look is always the safest option no matter the industry, so wearing makeup is usually not recommended. Finally, be moderate with your perfume so that it isn't overpowering.
Building the perfect business casual outfit for men
Follow these steps to create the perfect men's business casual outfit.
Long-sleeved collared shirt
Start with an ironed long-sleeved and button-down collared shirt in a neutral colour, tucked into a pair of dress pants. Avoid shirts in bright prints as they can be distracting. If you would like to add an extra layer, choose a blazer in a simple colour or a sweater layered over the top of the collared shirt. Both of these options are the perfect addition to a business casual outfit.
If it's a corporate interview, you may also want to pair your shirt with a tie in a simple pattern or solid neutral colour. Also, t-shirts and polo shirts don't give off a professional vibe, but a collared shirt never fails the dress-code test when deciding what to wear to a job interview.
Jeans aren't recommended in a business casual outfit. Instead, pair your collared shirt with an ironed pair of dress pants in a neutral colour like black, navy blue, cream or grey. Your belt should be unadorned and the same colour as your shoes.
The next item on your business casual outfit checklist is a pair of closed-toe shoes. A pair of dark-coloured and freshly polished closed-toe shoes are the best option. To complement your closed-toe shoes, choose a pair of mid-calf length dress socks in the same colour as your dress pants. You want to avoid sports socks and athletic shoes for your job interview.
It's best to forgo any kind of distracting jewellery in a job interview, such as earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Go back to basics, and pair your business casual outfit with a watch.
Additionally, keep your cologne or aftershave to a minimum so it doesn't overwhelm your prospective employer. You should also ensure your hair and facial hair are both neat and brushed.
Related: How to Succeed at a Group Interview
Do a dress rehearsal
A few days before your job interview, try on your entire outfit to make sure it looks clean, appears professional, and still fits well. Remember to sit down in your complete outfit as well to ensure it's comfortable. When you have your outfit on, schedule a mock interview with family or friends to get you in the right mindset. During your dress rehearsal, keep an eye out for wrinkles, stains, loose buttons and holes. It's also best practice to go over your outfit with a lint brush.
What not to wear to a job interview
While some outfits and accessories make the best first impression possible, there are some you should avoid for your next interview. Regardless of the industry, the following items are deemed unprofessional:
- Thongs, open-toed shoes, sneakers and runners
- Thin-strapped singlets, muscle shirts for men and casual slogan t-shirts
- Brightly coloured or patterned shirts that are too distracting
- Jewellery that is too bright or too noisy
- Skirts or dresses that fit just at your knee or below
- Visible undergarments
- Crop tops, blouses and dresses with plunging necklines
- Overpowering perfume and cologne
- Chipped or bright nail polish
- Wrinkled clothing