Dress for Success: What to wear to a job interview?

We’ve rounded up our top tips for making sure you rock interview-chic all year round.

Preparing for a job interview is pressured enough, but on top of ensuring you’re up to scratch on industry news and you’re well prepared for tricky interview questions, you’ve got to look the part, too. In an interview scenario, first impressions are everything, and it’s thought that you’ve got just 7 seconds before your interviewer makes their mind up on you. With such a short window of time, the way you present yourself is a crucial factor in making that first impression count and winning your interviewer round.

But gone are the days when a business suit was a ‘one-size-fits-all’ job interview outfit. Irrespective of the industry or the level of the position you were applying for, the last ten years have seen a significant rise of casual dress in the workplace. And with employees at UK-based tech firms increasingly adapting simple jeans and t-shirt combos inspired by Mark Zuckerburg’s daily uniform. As a direct result, knowing what to wear to a job interview can prove to be as much of a challenge as the interview itself!

To help assess the tone of your potential new workplace, and ensure you can dress accordingly, we’ve rounded up our top tips on how to tackle this sartorial minefield.

Dress for Success: What to wear to a job interview?

Image: Adobe Stock Library

Assessing the tone

When you’re invited to interview, it’s very easy to immediately reply saying that you’ll be there. However, this is a good opportunity to ask them what the company dress code is. They’ll then be likely to tell you if the job interview dress code will be formal, business casual, or even very casual!

However, if you’ve missed this opportunity, or you don’t feel comfortable asking, then a company’s website can be a big give away into its job dress code. Most companies have corporate Twitter accounts, and have ‘A day in the life videos’ online that feature employees going about their day to day work – watching these will give you a better insight into what the office dress code is. If their office isn’t too far from your own, you could even walk past there during your lunch break to assess what your potential new colleagues wear to the office. Make sure you don’t go on a Friday though, as there might be a dress down day you didn’t know about.

If the company looks and feels corporate, you know that a formal dress code will likely apply, and your smartest dress or your best suit and tie is the way to go. If the dress code appears to be on the more casual side, then business casual is a good idea.

Top tip: you should always aim to dress one notch smarter for interview.

The formal interview

If you’re attending a formal interview, then a suit is a failsafe. Whether it’s a skirt or trouser suit, it’s best to avoid anything in lurid colours, over the top patterns, or gimmicky fabrics. That fashionable suit might be all the rage right now, but it’s important to show your interviewer you’ve got timeless style! Accessories are the best way to inject a sense of your personality to your interview outfit – think smart jewellery, or patterned scarves and ties.

For women opting for a skirt suit, make sure it’s not much higher than just above the knee. Smart shift dresses can also be a good option – team it with a smart blazer. If you’re going for heels, there’s no set rule on how high they should or shouldn’t be, just make sure you’re comfortable in them.

Dress for Success: What to wear to a job interview?

Image: Adobe Stock Library

The business casual interview

This can prove to be more of a challenge, as you want to show your potential employer that you can fit in with the office culture. You don’t want to go too smart and alienate your interviewer though, and equally, going too casual will set a very unprofessional tone.

Payroll Manager Liam shares an experience where he didn’t take this into consideration:

“I’m an accountant, but I work at an advertising firm, meaning that the company is pretty relaxed in terms of dress code.

“For my first interview at my current role, which is also my first out of university, I turned up in a three-piece suit, which my dad had encouraged. The woman interviewing me was wearing light-coloured jeans, a casual t-shirt and trainers, and I felt pretty sheepish, not to mention uncomfortable, for the whole 45 minutes. It wasn’t a matter of vanity ­– I clearly didn’t understand the culture and I’m sure my now boss had concerns about how I would fit in. Thankfully she was pretty forgiving of my fashion faux pas.”

If you’re going to a business casual job interview, your best chance is to wear casual trousers with a smart shirt or blouse. Then, pair this with a smart blazer that you can either keep on or take off once you’ve accurately assessed the dress code once you’ve arrived. This can be matched with smart shoes, flats or loafers.

Top tip: never wear trainers to a job interview. And whilst we’re here, jeans and t-shirts are also a no go area!

Ultimately, it’s key to be comfortable in the interview outfit you choose. If you feel good, you’ll come across confidently, which will only improve your job interview performance.

We caught up with Keith White, Head of PR & SEO for Dobell, for his interview no goes:

  • Trainers, or any informal footwear. “Now is not the time to show people your unique collector’s edition.”
  • Ripped jeans: “These are never acceptable in an interview, and may cost you the chance of the job.”
  • Sunglasses: “Humans judge levels of trust and engagement, though eye to eye contact. Let them see the enthusiasm in your eyes during the interview.”
  • Unbuttoned: “You can leave the top 1 or 2 shirt buttons unbuttoned – anymore, and it’s verging on Tom Jones territory.”

To hear more job interview outfit hacks, take a look at Dobell’s infographic:

Related articles

Tell me about yourself! How to tell your story in an interview

Six skills to take your job interview to the next level