Normally, I would tell you it’s about what’s on the inside that counts. But when it comes to a job interview, that’s just not the case.
Your appearance absolutely matters when you’re walking into a job interview. That’s the cold, hard truth.
While there’s a lot about the hiring process that’s out of your control, what you wear to the job interview is one of the few things you actually can control. This is good news because what you wear is crucial to making the best first impression.
Obviously, you can’t go wrong with a classic cardigan or sweater vest—if I do say so myself. But let’s go deeper than that. Let’s talk about three really important steps you can take to guarantee you’ll walk into the job interview feeling like a boss.
How Do You Choose the Right Outfit for a Job Interview?
1. Do your research.
As always, to be prepared for a job interview, you have to do your research. In this case, you’re going to research the company—and department—dress code.
Ready to find your dream job? We'll show you how.
You should aim to dress to the level of the people who work in the department you’re interviewing to work in. So, don’t dress like the engineers if you’re shooting for a graphic designer role.
Check out the company’s website and social media accounts for clues. But also, don’t underestimate the power of simply asking! That’s right—if you’re not sure what the appropriate dress code is, go straight to the source and ask someone in HR.
Send a simple email that says, “I want to make sure I dress appropriately for the interview. What is the day-to-day dress code in your organization/on the design team?” Asking this will actually make you look thoughtful and prepared.
Here are a few more fast tips:
- Don’t overdress. Nothing says trying too hard like being overdressed.
- Don’t underdress. Nothing says lazy and disinterested like being underdressed.
- Aim to blend in so well that team members don’t know you’re not on the team.
You want to stand out in your conversation, not your clothing. So—for heaven’s sake—do your research.
2. Prepare your outfit.
The last thing you want to do when you’re feeling anxious and nervous about a job interview is to be scrambling to pick out an outfit the morning of or running to the mall on the way because you don’t have a tie to match your suit.
- Plan out what you’ll wear at least the night before.
- Try on the clothes and check to see if anything needs to be hemmed or ironed.
- Make sure that you feel comfortable in the outfit.
- Iron the outfit the night before. That’s one less thing that can make you late.
If you’re working Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps and are currently on Baby Step 2 and don’t have appropriate clothes for your job interview, take a look at your budget and make some adjustments. You’re trying to get the dream job, so buying a few new articles of clothing that make you look put together is worth the investment.
You don’t have to go crazy on prices or name brands because—let’s be honest—unless your interview is at Vogue, no one is going to notice the brand! Look for affordable options at stores like Old Navy, T.J. Maxx, and even Target.
3. Check for look, fit and feel.
Nothing riles me up like seeing someone walk into a job interview with the wrong look, fit and feel. You’re supposed to be dressing to impress, people! It doesn’t take much effort to look classy and put together.
I love how my colleague, and senior vice president of EntreLeadership, Sarah Sloyan, put it: “In an interview, everything communicates. Often, people are at their best in an interview, so if you dress sloppily, people will assume it’s only going to get worse from there.”
Boom. She nailed it.
Let’s break down how you can feel confident that your interview outfit only communicates the best about you.
The Right Look
Getting the right look comes down to a few key things. First, don’t wear anything that looks old and shaggy. Next, make sure anything you wear has been cleaned (no stains) and pressed (no wrinkles). Then—and I know this sounds simple—make sure your clothes match! If you’re color blind, find a friend who isn’t color blind to help.
Here are a few more tips:
- Avoid eating in your outfit before the interview—you don’t want to end up in the company’s bathroom scrubbing ketchup off your white shirt. Just don’t do it!
- If you’re tucking your shirt in, wear a belt that’s the same color as your shoes (as in, don’t wear a brown belt with black shoes).
- Polish your shoes—no, this isn’t old school! Trust me, the manager will notice if it looks like you took a cheese grater to your shoes. Ladies, the same goes for you: If your shoes look filthy, at least take a rag to them and wipe them down.
- And here’s another one from my colleague Sarah: “When it comes to accessories, less is always more—you want them to notice your personality, not your huge, flashy earrings.” Yes. Yes. Yes.
The Right Fit
Going for the right fit means choosing sizes and lengths that work for your body.
Guys, if your pants are so long that they’re bunching up at the bottom, you’re going to look like you borrowed your dad’s pants—and that’s an awful first impression.
- If you’re swimming in your shirt, it’s too big.
- If the buttons on your shirt move when you take a breath, it’s too small.
- If you’re afraid of bending over because your pants might rip, they’re too tight.
- If you’re worried about having to take the stairs because your heels are a few inches taller than you’re used to, go with flats.
When your clothes fit well, you’ll feel prepared for anything the interview throws at you. Whether it’s a sit-down in a conference room or they decide to take you for lunch, clothes that fit well will comfortably go with you wherever you need to go.
The Right Feel
We all have that outfit that, when we wear it, we walk with a strut and hold our head a little higher. That’s how you want to feel in whatever you choose to wear to your job interview.
Wear something you know you look good in and that makes you feel good about yourself. Because if you’re constantly tugging at your dress or shifting in your suit jacket, not only will you be distracted in the interview, but you’ll distract the interviewer as well.
If fashion isn’t an area of expertise, don’t be afraid to bring in a few close friends who can make suggestions—but more importantly, who will tell you the truth, even if it stings a little. You want to feel classy, professional, and—above all—comfortable. Because the more comfortable you are in your outfit, the more confident you’ll feel.
Remember what my colleague and friend Sarah Sloyan said: Everything in a job interview communicates something—especially what you wear. So, don’t think what you wear to the job interview is insignificant. I’m sure you have an awesome personality, but your outfit will still communicate whether you’re a top candidate or not.
Don’t miss out on your dream job simply because you didn’t take the time to iron your shirt or comb your hair. Remember, this is one part of the interview process that you have complete control over—take advantage of that.
If you need more tips on standing out in the hiring process, check out my interview guide. In it, I deep dive into the top five strategies you need to master to win the job interview.
You also tune into the The Ken Coleman Show every weekday for more advice and support. Contact me with your questions at 844.747.2577 or email@example.com.
All right folks, you’ve got this. Press on!
About Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman is the bestselling author of The Proximity Principle and national radio host of The Ken Coleman Show.
Pulling from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities and career successes, Coleman helps people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality.
Listen to The Ken Coleman Show on SiriusXM, your local radio station, or wherever you listen to podcasts—and connect with Ken at kencoleman.com.