Dress for success on a job interview for women and men

Asian business colleagues in a modern urban setting.

With holidays being over, it is back-to-work time. While many of us just continue “business as usual,” others may be searching for a new opportunity.

I have been in the professional world for over nine years now and have held three jobs, and with each one, I have moved up. It is not entirely pure luck; it required skills, courage, attitude and most importantly confidence. Lucky or not, throughout the years, I have sat in six job interviews and succeeded three times out of the six. Not bad huh? The first job I landed out of college was with a Fortune 500 company. I recall being so nervous during the interview, which was a two-day process.

Lo and behold, I made it through and worked for the company for almost five years.

I must admit that my MBA advisor (I was working and taking MBA courses at the same time) helped me to prepare better my professional resume and able to build my confidence. I took an etiquette course, and that is where I learned how important certain behaviors are especially in the professional world.

Without going further into details, the thing that stuck the most is how well you present yourself at first-impressions.  It’s probably not a surprise to you, but it is very important to emphasize. I applied this to every job interview I attended. I had the brains, the skills, and the confidence. I needed to impress at first sight.

I learned that while you may spend the entire day looking up “Top ten questions an interviewer asks,” preparing your answers, or gathering all the information about the company, do you take the time to think: ” What will you wear to the interview of your dream job?”

In 2016, I had to interview at least 20 people for a few positions, both women and men, and 99% of the time within 10 minutes I was able to make a decision whether or not the person would be a good fit for the company. It is mainly because of their first impression. It is not to say that ” I am judging a book by his cover.” It is to say that first impact is what will make a difference as the interview continues.

The first thing you must do is ask the recruiter about the company’s dress code to give you a better idea of needing to wear business, business casual or just casual. You do not want to be the person that showed up overdressed or underdressed. Also, ask them about their policy for wearing perfume or cologne; some companies have scent-free workplaces. Again, remember first impressions mean everything.

Here are a few ideas divided by dress code on what women and men should wear during a job interview.

Business dress code

Women:  Of course suits! I know suits can be quite boring sometimes, but my favorite ones are by Tahari. They are classy and conservative, but are also fashionable and go beyond just dark and gray colors. I own a dark purple suit – a jacket and pants and wear underneath a creamy round-neck Calvin Klein silky blouse instead). In my opinion, I do not recommend wearing a skirt. I feel that I would then have to worry about showing my legs (although I do have amazing calves – yes very proud) or if you decide to wear a skirt and leggings, there is always the fear of a run in your leggings. Bottom-line, make it simple and classy but yet fashionable. As for your facial appearance, apply light makeup around your eyes and wear a warm color lipstick.

Make sure that your hair is either tied back in a ponytail or at least brushed and possibly straightened. In my first interview I had my hair down, and because I was so nervous, I kept playing with it and noticed the facial expressions from the interviewer. I was then completely thrown off, and you guessed it right, I did not get the job! Needless to say, there is a lesson for us all: Keep your hands down below your chest area and if possible on a notepad taking notes while the interviewer is talking.

express-suitMen: I find that men have it so much easier to dress for a job interview. There are plenty of suits to choose from, yet, it can be challenging as well because there are so many options. I admire a black slim fit Calvin Klein suit and crisp white dress shirt on a man. It shows class and style. Although cliché, I still find black and white combination the best option.

GQ Magazine finds Hugo Boss Reyno2/Wave1 gray suit flattering and modern with perfect tailoring. Indeed, a powerful suit, it is reasonably expensive.

There is a similar suit available at Express  (shown in the picture) that is less expensive.

Business casual dress code

rudina-dress_1Women: I recommend that ladies to wear either black pants with buttoned down white ruffled shirt, which can be found at H&M or Zara, and dress it up with white pearls and low high heels.  In my experience, Nine West has the most comfortable business dress shoes at a very reasonable price with low high heels.

The same heels can be worn with the suit as well. If you do not like the black and white look, then go for dark blue navy dress pants and a V-neck or round neck blouse and throw on a cardigan.

If you prefer to wear a dress, I suggest a black one over your knee as shown in the photo (wearing a flowy, ruffled dress by Zara and Michael Kors shoes, belt, and purse)

Men:  The business casual look has its perks as well. I find blazers to be appealing on a man and one must always have a blazer in their closet as it can be worn with slacks, khakis or dress pants any day. One thing you want to stay away from is wearing the same color blazer over the same color pants. The appearance is slightly off because the colors never match perfectly.  I suggest you wear a round neck or a V-neck sweater underneath the blazer. When wearing a V-neck put on a dress shirt underneath, as it gives the sweater a fuller look. If during the interview process, you get too warm, it is OK to remove your blazer, but it’s best if you ask the interviewer first as a sign of courtesy.

Always have a pair of black dress shoes in your closet. In my opinion, Aldo shoes are a complete catch.

Casual dress code

Women and men:  For an interview, even if you are tempted to go casual, I would suggest skipping it and go for business casual instead. I just think the casual look is not sufficient or impressive enough in any job interview.

Note for men: If you feel that a jacket is overkill, then leave it at home.

Have you had to be the interviewee or the interviewer? What are your thoughts on first impressions?

17 replies »

  1. A great blog! I usually go business casual for interviews and I feel it’s the safest bet and happy medium for my profession as a teacher. Even when I used to work in the private sector, business casual was usually the happy medium.
    I am a big fan of wearing blazers with collared shirts during interviews with parents and new job positions. I find that appearance gets you through the gatekeeper as a starting point and you are taken more seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fabulous tips Rudina! I am also a fan of Nine West shoes for my business shoes 🙂 I agree 100% about not dressing casual to an interview ever, no matter what the dress code. I worked in human resources and now my clients are human resource professionals across industries and this is a consensus.

    Liked by 1 person

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