We are what we wear — and that matters a lot in job interviews
Interviews can be high-pressure. The last thing you want is to arrive at an office feeling awkward about your outfit. After working in the recruiting industry for over a decade, I've witnessed and heard about too many of those moments.
Your business professional interview outfit should be a stress-free experience, for both you and the hiring manager. Leaving a lasting positive impression starts the moment you walk in, starting with your physical appearance.
When I graduated college, a matching suit was the go to get-up. I wore one to work every day and had a closet full of different matching suits. Now, 10+ years later, suits for women are neither fashionable nor required. But, the startup culture has blurred the lines of what exactly business casual means. While I don't miss wearing a similar outfit every single day, I have seen the angst that the vague term "business casual" causes.
In the age of startups and young exec teams, jobseekers may be given the impression that they don't have to dress professionally, or even that they shouldn't. I have also heard jobseekers say that they want to show their casual and easygoing personality through their outfit. In my opinion, expressing a relaxed nature through your outfit can be a deal breaker for many hiring managers.
If you show up in Converse and a hoodie, you may come off as lackadaisical and unprepared. Even if the company's official dress code maxes out at "wear pants" it's still best to err on the side of professionalism, especially for interviews.
What exactly is a "professional outfit"?
When interviewing at a mid-range company (i.e. not corporate or super-casual start up), men should opt for slacks, a blazer, wrinkle-free button down and leather shoes. No tie needed in that instance, but for a corporate environment, a suit and tie is appropriate.
For women, wearing nice pants or a skirt with a fashionable top and a blazer is a great go-to interview outfit. If the weather is warmer, a dress (with a reasonable hem length!), and a cardigan or blazer would be appropriate.
Either way, go for the closed toe shoe, preferably a classic pump over boots or flats. Flip flops and open-toed shoes immediately downgrade the professionalism of your outfit - yes, even if you just had a mani-pedi!
Dressing for success
In my opinion, dressing for success can get a jobseeker into their A-game mindset even before they begin pitching themselves to a hiring manager. Opting for a more casual outfit may do more than show your hiring manager a certain level of professionalism, it may lead you to feel too laid back.
Word choice and tone can end up influencing hiring decisions. I am a full believer that donning your best blazer can actually help you remember to cut out the "um's" or "likes" and amp up your confident tone.
There will be plenty of time after onboarding to ask detailed questions about what attire is expected for daily work. At that point, it becomes appropriate to scope out what your fellow co-workers are wearing, and match their style.
During the interview process however, choosing to put your best foot forward quite literally in your nicest shoes will help set a great impression, and can get you in the right mindset.
Still not sure what to wear?
If you are truly unsure about what to wear for an interview, you can let the point person from the company you're interviewing with know what you are going to wear, and ask if they expect something different. Be careful here not to bug them with too many questions, it would be best to add this when you're confirming the time and place of the interview.
Also, don't ask what to wear. Rather, say something along the lines of, "Looking forward to seeing you at the office tomorrow at 2pm. I'm going to dress professionally, let me know if there's a different expectation!"
Hiring managers appreciate when candidates are well prepared, and respectful of their process. If you aren't sure you want to email, opt for the more professional outfit.
Carolyn Betts Fleming is the Founder and CEO of Betts Recruiting, the leading global recruitment firm specializing in matching revenue-generating talent with the world's most innovative companies.