We all know that we need to look our best for job interviews. However, especially if you are coming into a business setting from university, are coming to the big city from a small town, or are transitioning to the corporate world from a start-up or self-employment, it can be difficult to get it just right.
Some applicants are very diligent in rehearsing all their answers anticipated questions, as well as preparing for screening tests, coding challenges, case studies, presentations, or even unusual new assessments like the futuristic McKinsey Problem Solving Game.
Here, we’ll give you a run-through of essential dos and don’ts for a typical corporate job interview.
Obviously, things might change depending on the job you are applying to or where you live, but we’ll also give you a good understanding of the underlying principles so you can adapt to your own needs.
Why does it matter?
The quick answer is that first impressions count, but there is more to it than that. Going to your interview correctly dressed is showing respect to your potential employer. It gives them confidence that you are generally competent and understand that how you dress is essential for the role.
In a professional job, you may be meeting clients, so presenting the company in a good light is paramount. How you present yourself is a very relevant skill in management consulting, and companies that are paying a high price for you to be there will expect a certain standard.
The Goal is to Blend In
You want to stand out from the other candidates during the interview, but for your answers, not the way you are dressed! Dressing professionally does not mean all the latest fashion or anything that gets you remembered for the wrong reason. Forget the standard sayings such as, “dress to impress,” “power dressing,” or “dress smart, think smart.” The interviewer is interested in you, not your fashion sense. Unless, of course, it’s a fashion sector job you are going for!
When you decorate your house ready to sell, you aim for a crisp, clean look by painting everything cream. The same reasoning applies here.
The primary advice is to keep everything plain and simple. It may sound and even look dull, but it is acceptable everywhere. No bright colours or garish patterns, save them for the celebration party when you have the job!
Cultures and traditions can dictate what is an acceptable standard of dress for interviews. Following the rules we outline below should be a safe option wherever you go in the world.
Okay – enough talk about “why.” Let’s get on to the “how” and see what the safest options are for men and women to wear to interview. Remember, you don’t necessarily need to get everything 100% “right,” but this is a desirable goal to aim for. We are assuming you’re starting from scratch, so some of the tips below will be blindingly obvious.
It’s quite easy for men to put together an interview suit that is perfect for any occasion.
- Suit. Your suit should be plain dark grey or navy, single-breasted, and a good fit. Two or three buttons. Avoid black suits at all costs, as these are not appropriate for business. Make sure the jacket is long enough to cover your bottom, and that the hem of the trousers is just resting on your shoes. Avoid “skinny fit,” anything too tight or outlandish. Preferably aim for a little room in your suit, as you’ll feel and look more comfortable. A plain, smart suit. No check patterns, which are too casual, and no pinstripes, as these are outdated and stereotypical of bankers and the Mafia!
- Shirt. Plain white or very light blue, with a standard collar. Avoid button-down collars, pins, or anything out of the ordinary. Again, check patterns are too casual and avoid contrast collars and cuffs. Make sure the top button can be done up without restricting your breathing! A tight collar will make you uncomfortable and turn you a lovely shade of pink!
- Tie. Regular width in a plain solid colour. Blue or navy is best, made from a simple material such as polyester mix. Avoid patterns, and in the UK, particularly, avoid stripes. Many stripe patterns are associated with particular schools or regiments in the armed forces, and you won’t want to be inadvertently pretending to have served when you didn’t.
- Shoes. Black leather lace-up. No loafers, square or pointy toes. Just a plain, simple, black, and well-polished shoe.
- Socks. Navy or grey. No patterns. Match the colour of your suit.
- Accessories. Less is more. Just a wedding ring and cufflinks. A watch can be okay, but best avoided. Definitely no jewellery.
- Hair. A traditional cut, definitely no man buns. Clean shaved unless you usually wear a beard.
For women, the rules are a little less precise, and there is more room for individual judgment.
- Skirt or trouser suit in black, navy, or grey. You should always be wearing a jacket.
- Blouse/shirt. As with men, crisp white is the preferred option, although light blue is okay. Avoid showing to much skin.
- Shoes. Similar to men again, plain, black, or navy blue with a closed toe, and no extreme heels.
- Accessories. Keep jewellery to a minimum, with plain earings and necklace.
- Hair, makeup. A plain hairstyle, either up or down. Keep makeup simple with no bright colours.
Don’t Break the Bank!
You shouldn’t spend a fortune for your interview outfit, and as long as it looks smart, a $100 suit is just as effective as a $2,000 one.
In reality, you are better spending that money on a professional coach than blowing it on a suit, hoping to impress the interviewer.
Best Foot Forward!
Now, nobody is going to hire you just because you are dressed well. You always need to start and end with preparing properly for what you will be saying and doing in interviews and any assessments.
However, with this guide, you can hopefully step into the interview room, knowing that one more thing is correct and in your favour. The confidence that comes from knowing you look your best buoying you up and helping to make a positive first impression.