Interviews can be stressful enough without the added stress of having to think about what to wear. Is your “casual” blazer too casual? Can you wear sneakers with dress pants? Should you try to shake things up by wearing a UC Berkeley T-shirt or is that unprofessional? It’s difficult to gauge whether you’re over or underdressed, especially if you’re interviewing at a company that boasts a relaxed work environment. If you’re unable to strike that perfect balance between hip and smart and committing a grave fashion faux pas, follow our handy guide to understanding interview wardrobes.
Business attire sounds straightforward: formal wear was made for this exact purpose. It shouldn’t be hard to throw on a suit and look polished and ready for an interview. “Business” is a wide umbrella, however, so we recommend a quick search to make sure that you aren’t overdressing. If you’re interviewing for a marketing position, you can probably lose the pinstriped suit, but if you’re a future strategy consultant or banker, don’t skimp on a tie.
Make sure you spend some time looking up the company environment and culture. You can read reviews on Glassdoor or other websites that break down company reviews. Or you could simply pay attention to the photos on their website and social media channels to get a better sense of what people in the workplace dress like on a daily basis. If you know what to expect going in, you won’t be worried or in for a surprise on interview day.
Whether it’s art, design or interior design, creative fields are all about expression, and you should feel free to use your outfit to reflect the innovation and individuality you aspire to bring to the job.
Play with styles, colors and fabrics. Unlike a traditional business role, creative fields aren’t always as structured and external-facing, so you can use your own judgment to decide what’s appropriate and whether or not it fits the company culture and projects that you hope to work on.
Are you applying for a research or teaching position? Is your interview to get into graduate school? Take care to look sharp and demonstrate that you’re serious. You can opt for something similar to regular business attire, but keep in mind the department that you want to work for. A liberal arts school might be more traditional, but an engineering department’s daily environment could mirror a technology company instead.
Mark Zuckerberg wears jeans — technology companies are notoriously flip-flop compatible, and your technical interviewer might show up in cargo shorts — but that definitely doesn’t mean you need to fish for an old, ratty T-shirt before your interview. Opt for black jeans and a nice blouse or a collared shirt instead.
You don’t have to put in the effort to dress up, but it doesn’t hurt to dress well. If you’re ever unsure about how far you can push the gray area in interview fashion, consider reaching out to your recruiter to ask if there’s a preferred dress code. Ask your friends for constructive criticism if you want a second eye on your ensemble. If a close friend says you really need to change, you should probably take their advice and switch it up.
At the end of the day, if a company or interviewer judges your capabilities based on what you’re wearing, that’s a clear red flag on their end and you should focus your energy on other places that value your qualifications instead of your physical appearance. Remember that there is so much more to offer a company than the clothes you wear. But don’t think that you can just show up anywhere with a T-shirt and jeans. Yes, comfort is key, but you want to make the company know that you mean business and that you’re serious about whatever job you’re interviewing for.
Dressing up and looking smart for an interview can boost your confidence and make you feel better about yourself, but it can also show a person that you’re taking the opportunity seriously and have researched the company thoroughly. Keep in mind that your clothing should never be a disqualifier, and it’s fair game to wear whatever makes you feel the most comfortable.
Contact Mahira Dayal at[email protected].