Deciding what to wear to an interview is often a stressful part of the preparation process. Successful job interviews depend on both how well you answer questions and how you present yourself. That’s why a smart, pulled together appearance can help convince the hiring manager that you’re a great fit for the company.
Below, you’ll find tips on what to avoid wearing for an interview and how to dress for a business casual job interview.
Research the office dress code
Before choosing an interview outfit, research the company to determine how formal their workplace is. If you’ve checked the company website and social media pages but still can’t determine the dress code, try calling the company’s HR department. Explain that you have an upcoming interview and would like to the know the appropriate dress code.
It’s also a good idea to consider the role and industry. If you’re interviewing for a corporate position in finance or law, for example, wear formal business attire. For men, this means a matching suit and tie. For women, it means a tailored dress, pantsuit or skirt suit. However, for less formal positions and workplaces, business casual is almost always the best option.
What is business casual?
Although it doesn’t have a strict definition, business casual generally means dressing professionally without being overly formal. It’s a step up from jeans and a t-shirt but a step down from formal business attire. It’s often a company’s default dress code and one that is a smart option for job interviews in nearly every industry.
How to dress business casual (for women)
1. Simple, professional tops
Wear a top that is comfortable, professional and conservative. Try a button-down shirt paired with a cardigan, a simple blouse with a casual jacket, a navy blue blazer or a knit sweater. Choose neutral colors and simple patterns. Avoid slouchy or oversized sweaters, ill-fitting clothes, plunging necklines and fabric that wrinkles easily. It’s also an option to wear a casual dress paired with a cardigan and simple belt.
2. Dress pants or a skirt
Pair your top with black or navy slacks or a pencil skirt (knee length or longer) that have been ironed. If you’re wearing a button-down shirt, you may want to tuck it into your pants or skirt for a polished look. It’s also acceptable to wear khaki or cotton pants, as long as they look professional.
3. Comfortable, closed-toe shoes
For your business casual interview, wear black or brown closed-toe flats, pumps or low heels. Make sure your shoes are not scuffed, scratched or dirty, and avoid strappy sandals, flip-flops, sky-high stilettos, sneakers or brightly colored shoes.
4. Simple accessories
Keep your jewelry choices simple and professional. Avoid chunky, large or distracting bracelets, necklaces and earrings. Instead, wear simple hoop or stud earrings, a delicate necklace and one or two simple bracelets that don’t jangle. If you wear nail polish, make sure it’s unchipped and in a classic, muted color.
How to dress business casual (for men)
1. Collared shirts with long sleeves
Wear a light-colored, pressed button-down shirt with long sleeves and a collar, and make sure it’s neatly tucked into your pants. You can wear a knit tie with a simple pattern or solid color, but this is completely optional. It’s also appropriate to layer a nice sweater over a button-down shirt for a polished business casual look. Although it’s not mandatory, consider throwing on a grey, black or navy blue blazer or lightweight sports jacket for a more pulled together outfit. Avoid wearing a polo shirt even if you’re interviewing at a laid-back company.
2. Chinos or dress pants
Crisply pressed cotton pants, light-colored chinos or khakis are great options for a business casual interview. Stick to neutral colors like grey, black, brown and navy blue, since these match many shirt colors. In some workplaces, it may be acceptable to wear dark colored jeans. If you’re not sure if jeans are appropriate in this office, wear chinos or dress pants instead.
3. Dark shoes with matching socks
Choose dark-colored, freshly-polished leather shoes. You can wear brown or black loafers, lace-up dress shoes, Oxfords or another professional closed-toe shoe that compliments your outfit. Be sure to wear mid-calf length dress socks that match the color of your trousers. Avoid athletic socks.
4. Simple accents
You may choose to wear a classic wristwatch with a metal or leather band, but you should remove any distracting jewelry, such as earrings, necklaces or bracelets. Always wear a leather belt that closely matches your shoe color. You could add a simple pocket square to a blazer pocket to complete the look.
5. Final Step: Do a dress rehearsal
Try on your complete outfit a few days ahead of the interview to ensure everything fits properly and looks clean and professional. Do a mock interview with a friend or family member while wearing your interview outfit to see how it fits and feels. The night before, check one last time for any wrinkles, stains, holes or pet hair.
What not to wear to an interview
Finally, let’s review what you should not wear to an interview, regardless of how formal or informal the workplace is. Your goal in a job interview is to make a good first impression, and how you dress is an important part of how others perceive you. To make sure you look your best, avoid
- Flip flops and other open-toed sandals
- Athletic shoes
- Tank tops or shirts with thin straps
- Underwear that sticks out from your clothing (This could include the top of your boxers, briefs, etc. showing from the top of your pants or skirt, or bra straps showing.)
- Skirts or dresses that are too short (You can test this by standing and placing your arms straight down your sides. If the hem of your skirt is shorter than the end of your fingers, you may want to choose a longer one.)
- Shirts with too-low necklines or that expose your belly
- Perfume or cologne (While you should smell clean, some scents are irritating to others. In a small meeting room, smell can become distracting.)