Dressing for job interviews: 10 Do's and Don'ts
  • Maud Vanhoutte

Dressing for job interviews: 10 Do's and Don'ts

When getting ready for job interviews, candidates usually spend a lot of time focusing on their preparation; they focus on their answers to potential questions and they are right, it is necessary.

However, only few of them focus properly on their appearance and outfits choices.

We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, so we should not judge or be judged based on appearance; right?

It is true in theory but not in practice, especially during job interviews.

The overdressed candidate will be judged as the one who tried too hard when the candidate applying in a luxury restaurant with a dirty shirt and used shoes will be judged as negligent and unprofessional.

So why is that? Are we mean? Are people mean because they judge us?

The human brain is programmed to keep us safe, to keep us out of trouble. To do so, he will compare everything, everyone and every situation with previous references. This observation and analysis dictate your reaction to people and situations. It then means that you are not a bad person and people around you neither when observing and ‘judging’ others. However, being aware of this fact will help you observing more than judging, because, at the end, we don’t have a right to judge anyone.

We do not know their life, past, story, we do think differently, we don’t have the big picture and we only see small details and pieces of a person.

This overdressed candidate might come from a different country where dressing this way is the only appropriate way for any job interview. The candidate applying in the luxury restaurant with a dirty shirt and used shoes might be on budget and couldn't do otherwise. We never know the all story.

Knowing that might help you temperate your judgment, however, the recruiter might have (sadly) miss our article. It will then be important to follow our 9 do’s and don’ts when dressing for interviews.

If you want to succeed, give your appearance a special attention when getting ready for job interviews.

What does the recruiter want? The recruiter wants to find the best candidate for the company. The best candidate is the one with the right skills as well as the candidate that will fit best within the company’s culture and frameworks.

Let’s imagine two candidates with very similar skills and competencies. How the company is going to make her choice? She will choose depending on the candidate’s communication skills and first impression.

Think of all the time you spent on this application: researches, cover letter and resume, getting ready for the questions… It would be so bad to do all of that for nothing because of a bad first impression. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Let’s make sure you will make a great one!

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked when working with clients on their employability skills is: Should I suit up for job interviews? Is the suit or woman suit mandatory when going to job interviews?

My answer is always the same; it all depends on different factors:

  • The role you are applying for,

  • The company’s industry,

  • The company’s sector,

  • The company’s culture,

  • The company’s dress code

Let’s say that you are applying for a role in retail. It will be very different if the company is specialised in garden retail or fashion retail. Then in fashion retail it will be very different between luxury items and cheap ones.

What is your outfit’s role?

On the interview day, your outfit have multiple roles.

1. Your outfit needs to show respect for the company and the person who receives you.

To do so, you will match your choice on the particular dress code in place in the company with adding a ‘little something’.

For example, if everyone is wearing polo, you will wear a shirt; if everyone is wearing a shirt, you will add a jacket; if everyone is wearing a suit, you will add a tie…

2. Your outfit also needs to allow the recruiter to picture you working and integrating the company. To help the recruiter figuring you in the company, select the same colours and type of clothes than the employees.

It is even truer when the staff members are wearing uniforms.

If the dress code is black and white wear black and white; if the uniform is light green wear light green.

That definitely helps the recruiter seeing you working already.

Recently, I had a client who illustrates that pretty well. She agreed for me to share her story with you…

She was looking for a position as a Chef in fancy restaurants. She was called for interviews but never selected. After too many rejections, she decided to contact me.

She explained that she was spending a lot of time getting ready for interviews and was trying to give her appearance a special attention. To understand what was potentially going wrong, I invited her to an interview simulation and asked her to dress accordingly.

She arrived on high heels with a narrow skirt; she had a sophisticated make-up on, artificial nails and untied hairs. She was gorgeous for sure, only not appropriate for the occasion.

From a recruiter’s perspective it was impossible to hire her! The recruiters were only thinking that:

  • She was going to spend too much time re-doing her make-up,

  • She will loose hair on plates and pans

  • She couldn't stand all day on that heels

  • She would loose an artificial nail in the soup

Once she ‘unsophisticated’ her outfits, she got hired within 2 interviews.

You will always need to ask yourself a few questions and adapt your choices based on the specific situation.

That leads to our first do!

1. DO Prepare

You can’t wait until the last minute to decide what to wear and check if it’s clean and properly iron.

You should check and get your complete outfit ready at least 2 days before the interview.

It gives you enough time to change, clean and iron it if necessary. It also avoids a big stress on the big day.

2. DO Observe

How to get the company’s culture and dress code? By observing actual staff. If you have a chance to go directly in the company to have a look, do so. If not, many companies are active online and on social media, track their photos and employees.

3. DO Ask

Are you still unsure? It is ok to ask. You can ask if there is a specific dress code or if they expect you to wear specific attire for the interview.

4. DO NOT assume that it doesn’t matter

Do not assume that your skills will be enough to get the job. As any other candidate, you have to pay a special attention to your communication skills and first impression.

5. DO NOT disguise yourself

This aspect is a bit tricky. You don’t want to disguise yourself but you still have to adapt to the professional situation.

Do not disguise yourself in a way that is too much for you and prevent you from being at ease to move and discuss freely.

If your personal styling signature is essential to you, pick a job, industry and company that will allow you to feel yourself at work.

6. DO NOT listen to generalities

Not all generalities will apply for your specific situation. Analyse the situation and decide with all the necessary information.

7. DO pay attention to your colour choices

Wearing colours can always be challenging, especially when trying to mix and match them. For job interviews you will prefer neutral colours when a formal dress code is in place.

In all cases, you will avoid picking too many colours; you will be cautious with bright colours and try to avoid mixing them wrongly.

To look serious and professional, the monochrome harmony is the best choice.

To look creative and dynamic the complementary harmony is a must try!

8. DO pay attention to details

Details and accessories are essential parts of your outfit; they are your own styling signature!

They turn any simple combination of clothes into an appropriate amazing and stylish outfit.

Keep them simple, small and select only a few.

Be very cautious with tattoos and piercings, as always, it depends which role, industry and company you target…

9. DO NOT wear any controversial detail

A job interview is not the right place for any sign of religious, belonging or political opinions.

10. DO NOT let your outfit be a distraction

It is essential that the recruiter focus on your words, not on your appearance. You can’t let your outfit be a distraction from your speech!

Specific advice when employees are wearing uniforms

As I said above, when employees are wearing uniforms, it is very important to try to stay as close as possible to the uniform when dressing for the job interview. Select the same colours, try to match the style and shapes, keep the accessories and details light.

For example, if you apply in a clinic where the medical coat is pink, wear a pink top!

Specific advice for you gentlemen…

If wearing a suit, pay attention to details:

  • Adjustment: Your suit needs to fit your body shapes. If you pick a suit that is too big, you will look smaller, lost in it and unprofessional. If it is too small, you will not be at ease.

  • Ironing: Your shirt needs to be perfectly clean and properly iron

  • Short or long sleeves: Some will say that short sleeves should be kept for holidays only; others will think that it is ok at work depending on the role or industry. I would recommend keeping the sleeves long for job interviews, especially for executive roles. You will then adapt depending on the day-to-day dress code and your own tastes.

  • Focus on your socks: At work or for job interviews, please, gentlemen pay attention to your socks! Stay away from coloured socks and white socks as well as socks with patterns. Prefer classic navy blue, brown and black socks. Also, pick the long socks rather than the short ones; as you sit your trousers will be higher leading to show your socks. That is all right to see your socks, not your legs and legs hair!

  • Tie: Match your tie with your shirt and suit. Do not mix patterns like dots and stripes. If your jacket is plain, your shirt OR tie can have patterns, if your jacket or shirt have patterns you tie and jacket or shirt will be plain. Also, watch the length of your tie; the end of your tie should get around your belt buckle, not longer, not shorter. The size of your knot depends on your neck’s size and shapes: for thine necks pick thine knots, with larger ones, pick larger knots.

Finally, stay away from funny ties unless you apply as a clown or performer…

The final result and harmony of your outfit will depend of all these details…

Specific advice for you ladies…

Is wearing a dress or a skirt ok?

I would answer yes to that question, only, not any skirt/dress for any situation. As always, you will need to adapt your choices depending on the job, the company and the industry. Dress codes haven’t change that much through the years, they do change according to your specific situation.

If working in finance, banking or law, you will be expected to pick serious and formal attires when if working in design, advertising or IT, you will be encourage to choose your own styling signature allowing creativity.

Then, if you choose to wear a skirt or a dress, make sure that:

  • It’s not too short or narrow. Even if the dress code is casual, you are still at work so you have to stay professional

  • You don’t wear a deep cleavage

  • You pick the style accordingly with the dress code in place

Is wearing make-up ok?

Yes definitely, indeed, wearing make-up is as important as doing your hair in the morning.

However, unless you are working in a beauty sector where make-up will need more attention, always prefer a nude natural make-up rather than a sophisticated one for job interviews.

If you don’t like to do your make-up or if you are not used to, a 3 steps easy make-up will be a good choice:

  1. Mascara

  2. Blush

  3. Gloss / Lipstick

Maud Vanhoutte

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+61 (0)2 9569 6906



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