What the (bleep) am I going to wear today?” This question is never more important than the day of a job interview. Yes, yes, it’s your personality and skills that really matter, but your appearance is often what your interviewer will notice first—and it can go a long way in showing her that you’re ambitious, professional, and most importantly, a great fit for the company.
Which means—there’s no one-suit-fits-all approach for what to wear. From your jacket to your shoes to even your accessories, you’ll want to consider the culture of the place you’re applying before you pick out your ensemble.
So before you start shopping, check out our guide to four common company types—and what to wear for each.
For companies that have a business or business casual dress code, keep your look basic and conservative for the first interview. (Stick to these guidelines for the second and third interview, too, if it’s a more formal organization.)
“The rule still applies that you dress for the job you want—not the job you have or are applying for,” says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman (check out her Job Interview Attire Quiz!). She recommends wearing a conservative suit—a jacket with pants or a skirt—in dark grey or navy, and carrying “a briefcase or purse, not both.” Finish the look off with basic black pumps and simple, elegant jewelry.
Business Casual, Interview Style
“Depending on where you’re interviewing, on second interviews you may have an opportunity to dress down to some degree,” says Gottsman. Unless the company’s employees wear suits every day, you can skip the jacket after the first interview (or wear a more casual one)—just make sure you’re still dressed a couple of notches above everyone else. “Remember that this is still the first time some of these people will see you,” she adds.
Think what you’d normally wear to work, dressed up a bit: Diane Davis, a New York-based web editor, recommends a “dark skirt, crisp white blouse, statement necklace, good bag, and polished boots or pumps as weather-appropriate.” A shift dress with a cardigan or blazer would also work well.
If you’re interviewing at a place where everyone comes to work in jeans and flannels, you don’t want to show up in a black suit—it will signal that you won’t fit in or don’t understand the company culture. (Think about it—they’re running a ping-pong-in-the-break-room-style start-up to avoid being around all those suits all day.)
But that doesn’t mean you should channel your inner hipster, either. “It means wearing something you are comfortable in, something that’s work-appropriate, and something that represents you,” says Lauren Batty, a start-up recruiter at Connery Consulting, LLC. “If I were interviewing in the start-up world today, I’d wear a nice pair of dark jeans, a simple shirt or sweater, ballet flats, and a small bag with enough room for a note pad, pen, and extra resumes. A casual dress would be appropriate as well.”
The Interviewer Wears Prada
If you’re gunning for a fashion-industry job, where the employees look more like Gucci models than Gap-outfitted cubicle dwellers, you’re going to have to dress the part. “Dressing too stuffy, boring or corporate will immediately indicate you’re not the right fit—before anyone even sits down to interview you!” says style expert Jennifer Chan. “To still look polished and professional, pair one business-like piece (a pencil skirt, a smart blazer, or sleek trouser pants) with something more fun—a chic blouse and a great belt, for example.”
Above all, you want target your look to the job you’re applying for—just like you target your resume and your answers to questions in the interview. Having a killer look might not get you the job, but it’ll make sure you stay in the running. Good luck!