What to wear to an interview – whether it’s “business casual”, creative or informal

Paige Breaux

We’ve all been told you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to job interviews how you look definitely influences whether or not you’ll get the job. Hiring managers are looking for someone who appears to fit with the vibe of the company culture and demonstrates knowledge of their field. If two identically qualified candidates are battling it out, the job will more than likely go to the person who overall presented themselves the best .

While a stylish cardigan won’t make up for a poor resumé, nailing the interview outfit is still a crucial step in getting your foot in the door. Job interviews are all about creating a great first impression. Your clothing choices allow you to present yourself as confident, put-together, and familiar with the company culture before you even open your mouth.

While 20 years ago, it was likely fine to walk into any office in a standard black pantsuit or pencil skirt, interview attire is no longer one size fits all. More and more industries are moving away from the typical business suit standard and expecting job seekers to demonstrate more personality through their clothing choices. A candidate applying to a PR agency will be expected to have a completely different look than a potential architect or accountant.

Thankfully we’re here to take away the pre-interview fashion headache and save you hours spent tearing through your closet by revealing the best outfit options for every kind of workplace dress code.

1.) Formal/Corporate Interviews

Suit up! If you’re applying for a role in a corporate/finance field like banking, real estate, or insurance your best bet is to keep it traditional and conservative. The typical “look” of these industries has changed, the least in the last few decades, and seem to be one of the few sectors where a formal business suit or tailored skirt and blazer combo is still the norm.

Your color palette should be firmly neutral, (black, navy, gray, tan) and any jewelry should be similarly small and non-distracting. You never want to get caught fiddling with long necklaces or shaking around a flashy, heavy wristwatch. Similarly, avoid messy flyaway hairs by keeping your do slicked back away from your eyes. Women with long hair should opt for sleek ponytails/up-dos and ditch any extra clips/accessories.

Finally, before you leave the house, make sure everything’s wrinkle-free and tailored to your specific body. Nothing says “kid playing dress up in their parent’s clothes” more than a candidate who’s drowning in their suit sleeves or tugging at too-tight tie.

2.) Business Casual Interviews

What even is business casual?

Jobs that require in-between dress codes like marketing, sales, and administrative roles are often the trickiest interviews to nail down. If you’ve got a semi-professional interview coming up, treat your clothing choices as if you were dressing for a nice dinner out or family holiday.

Try pairing separate pieces (suit jacket/slacks) in complementary colors. Shirts and blouses should still be collared and conservative, but feel free to add a little variety with  patterns/stripes/details.

Thankfully (for our feet) heels are no longer the only shoe option for professional women. So if it’s more comfortable for you go ahead and skip the pumps. Opt instead for a basic pair of leather ballet flats or oxfords.

If you’re looking for something other than a standard suit jacket, try out a dark vest or sweater over a button down.

3.) Creative Arts Interviews

Creative industries like art and media generally offer candidates the most freedom in terms of styling. These careers thrive on unique and fresh ideas, so you never want to go in looking exactly like everyone else. However, you never want to go too wild with the first impression and risk looking like you’re not taking the opportunity seriously.

Show off your personality with small touches like bright colored shirts, detailed jackets, or one to two pieces of interesting jewelry. In certain fields like graphic design, tattoos in interviews are even welcomed because they demonstrate the interviewee’s willingness to use himself as a canvas.   

4.) Laid-Back/Informal Interviews

Interviews with engineering companies and fresh tech startups allow for candidates to loosen their buttons a bit. In the past decade, the “Silicon Valley” uniform has come to mean a basic black or white t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of well-worn Chucks.

But even if the company itself prides itself on a laid-back reputation, it’s always best to aim a little more put together. Never assume you can just roll into the interview in an old t-shirt and jeans. You never want to find yourself in an awkward spot like this guy, who lost out on a tech position when the interviewer confused him for a lost intern.

Being overly casual implies a sort of cockiness to your interviewer that you’re already in. Whereas, showing up slightly overdressed is much more easily forgiven as an “eagerness to impress.”

Your best bet for more informal industries is a pair of well-fitting khakis or cotton slacks paired with a basic button-down. Tennis shoes/loafers are also both great choices for a relaxed but put-together vibe.

Once you’ve officially landed the job and become a part of the company culture, you’ll likely be able to dress more casually, but till then it’s safest to scale up.

Remember, dress for the job you want and above all be comfortable and confident in whatever clothes you choose. And no matter what you’re wearing, remember to finish off your look with a smile!

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Have more questions about what to wear to land your dream job? Ask us @kununu_US!