What to Wear on a Job Interview in 2022
Not at all long ago, the working world was still a pretty formal place, bound by standards of professional decorum that had existed in one way or another for decades. So what to wear for a job interview was pretty straightforward: a suit or a dress, in subdued colors and with clean accessories. The exact cut of a fashionable suit may have changed over the years, but you were still expected to wear one.
But work has transformed in the last decade or two, and never has the shift been more radical than in the last few years. With more and more workplaces abandoning any idea of a dress code, and a new emphasis on “bringing your true self to work” in progressive workplaces, the rules are being rewritten. And with a new trend towards remote work, a hiring manager may only ever see you from the shoulders up.
But does the fact that standards have gotten looser mean that there are no rules at all? Well… not exactly.
How You Dress for An Interview is Important
Times may be changing, but the purpose of an interview remains the same: it’s where you make that all-important first impression, and how a potential employer decides whether you’re right for the role. So you want to use all the resources at your disposal to come off well, and show that you respect the process as well as the person conducting the interview.
So you always want to put some extra effort into your appearance for an interview, and dress more formally than you would for a regular day of work. In other words, you want to err on the more formal end of a prospective employer’s dress code.
There’s another factor in play here too: an interview is also a bit of a test, on both sides, to see whether you’ll fit in at the company where you’re applying. So you also don’t want to completely iron out your personal style, or sacrifice your comfort. Because if you feel awkward in your clothes, it can negatively color your whole mindset and affect your sense of belonging.
Do Some Dress Code Research
When you’re deciding how to dress for an interview, the first step is to do a bit of research on the job you’re applying for, and what the standards might be.
Get to Know Your (Potential) Employer
If you’re a recent law school graduate and applying only at “Biglaw” firms or other highly corporate environments, this is very straightforward: they’re almost alll going to have the same dress code, and it’s definitely going to be strict. Formal is the way to go.
Other situations may be more nuanced. Say you’re a software developer and have an interest in the financial sector. Are you applying to a super-cool Silicon Valley FinTech startup, or are you looking to work in house at a major bank? Maybe you’re applying to jobs at both kinds of places, and if that’s the case your interview style will likely need to vary.
Think About the Position You’re Applying For
Even within the same company, there may be different standards of dress. Is your job customer-facing, like in sales? This is a role that will require a lot more day-to-day polish than a job where you’ll be interacting mostly within your team.
The level of the position can also play a factor. If you’re interviewing for a C-Suite position, even at a relatively casual company, “power dressing” is likely going to be a part of making the right impression. A 20-something interviewing for a job with no management responsibilities won’t need to project quite the same level of authority.
Ask Yourself What You Feel Comfortable In
However, as we already said, the interview process is actually a mutual test and making sure you feel comfortable in the company culture is an important part of choosing a job. So while you always want to dress to impress, it’s worth thinking about what that means in a specific environment. If you hate wearing suits but the company has a strict dress code, is this the place you want to work? On the opposite end, if dressing up for work makes you feel like a badass, will you feel out of place if everyone else is in hoodies and flip flops?
If you want the job badly enough, due to financial pressures or career advancement, that may be more important than personal comfort – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you’re in a position to be picky, it’s definitely soemthing to think about.
Diversity when Dressing for Work
Thinking about your comfort can be a key issue – and sometimes a fraught one – if you’re trans, non-binary, or present yourself in a way that doesn’t fit the traditional image of your sex assigned at birth. Will your workplace welcome you on your own terms?
What if you’re a Black woman who greatly prefers to wear your natural hair? Or a Muslim woman who wears Hijab?
If your workplace won’t embrace your identity, that may feel not only uncomfortable but hostile, and could have repercussions on your life and wellbeing even outside work.
Tips for Preparing Your Interview Outfit
If you’re job searching, chances are you might be going on multiple interviews. So a bit of advance preparation can save you time, as well as stress.
Asses Your Wardrobe Well in Advance
Look at what you have in your wardrobe, what kind of shape it’s in, and whether it still fits. Do you have appropriate clothing for the jobs you’ll be applying for? If not, you may need to go shopping.
Choose a Few Outfits Ahead of Time
Once you have the right clothes in your closet, it’s worth it to assemble a couple outfits – complete with accessories – in advance. Try everything on, make sure you look appropriate and feel comfortable. Take some pictures if you want, either for your own assessment or to send to friends for their opinion. That way, you won’t be scrambling and stressing half an hour before you’re supposed to leave the house for that all-important interview.
Make Sure Your Outfit is Ready to Go the Night Before
The night before your interview, it’s a great idea to pull out your chosen outfit and make sure that it’s ready to go. Is it clean and ironed? If you suddenly notice a little stain on the shirt, you can choose a different outfit without a last-minute panic. Laying everything out, including accessories, is again a way to save yourself a stressful last-minute scramble.
What to Wear for Every Kind of Job Interview
How to Dress for an Interview in a Formal Workplace
If you’re interviewing for a job in a formal workplace, such as law, banking, or politics, you’re definitely going to want to dress up. A suit and formal shoes is the trustiest option, with a tie for men. Women can also wear a nice dress in this situation, erring on the conservative side of the fashion spectrum. Choices on cut, fabric, color palette and accessories can help you give it a bit of a personal stamp, but you’ll still want to play it safe. Avoid super bright colors, and big jewelry with a lot of flash.
Business Casual: The All-Purpose In-Between
“Business casual” has become a bit of a catch-all for everything that falls between “formal” and streetwear – so it covers a fair amount of territory, and it works in pretty much all interview situations that don’t call for formal attire. The trick is to look polished, so you want to avoid jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers in favor of nicer fabrics and more tailored cuts.
Slacks and a nice sweater or button-down shirt with dress shoes works for all genders, and adding a blazer for polish is never a bad idea. Women tend to have more options than men, as skirts, dresses, and a variety of blouse styles can also fit the bill. Business casual also gives you more leeway to show off your individual style, though you’ll still want to err on the conservative side for an interview.
How to Dress for an Interview in an (Ultra) Casual Workplace
This could include startups, creative agencies, and other businesses that pride themselves on being “hip,” non-traditional, and having a come-as-you-are mentality. You’ll have more range for self-expression at a place like this, but that said, you’re still dressing to make a good impression so you want to make sure your “casual” look is polished.
For this reason, business casual may actually be the safest option. However, you may be fine in a nice pair of jeans (think dark wash, with a more tailored fit) if you dress them up with a nice pair of shoes and top. Even a clean, fashion-forward pair of sneakers may work in this situation – but definitely avoid your dirty running shoes. Adding a blazer is also a great way to give sheen to a slightly more casual outfit.
Makeup and Accessories (and Tattoos!) on a Job Interview
Even if you’re not someone who would wear makeup to the office every day, putting some on for a job interview is pretty much always a good idea. So is making sure your hair looks neat and tidy. You’ll want to keep your look toned down – the effect should be for polish, rather than glamming it up the way you would for a night out on the town. The same holds true for accessories like jewelry, watches, and bags: you want to enhance your look and add a sense of completion to your outfit, but you should avoid anything too flashy, glitzy, or spangly.
Tattoos have become increasingly acceptable even in more formal workplaces – though not everywhere. The location of your tattoo(s) may solve this for you: back tattoos will pretty much never be visible while hand tattoos will always be. A sleeve tattoo might not be visible if you’re wearing a button-down to an interview, but if your workplace allows for short sleeves your employers are sure to notice it soon. So again, it’s worth considering the company culture. If you have a tattoo that will be visible in certain standard types of clothing, will you be ok working someplace where you’ll be required to keep it covered – even on hot days?
How to Dress for a Virtual Interview
As jobs go remote interviews have increasingly gone online, and even an in-person employer may streamline the process by doing a digital first round. So what should you wear? Honestly, more or less exactly what you’d wear if the interview was in person, and for the same reasons. And while it may be tempting to wear comfy sweatpants below your jacket and tie, do this at your own risk: you may unexpectedly have to stand to get some papers, or because your cat knocks over a plant.
What Not To Wear on a Job Interview
We’ve basically covered the “don’ts” while discussing the “dos” but just to summarize: since you want to err on the side of being more formal, you’ll generally want to stay away from t-shirts, shorts, and open-toed shoes like flip-flops, even in the most casual situations. Avoid ill-fitting clothes, or clothes that need to be washed or ironed. Dress to impress but not to grab attention: stay away from loud colors, makeup, and accessories, don’t wear a ton of scent, and avoid sheer clothing or showing a lot of skin.