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Job Interview | Dressing to Get the Job

On the anxiety scale, job interviews rank right up there along side first dates.  An interview is a time when it’s imperative to present your very best; in order to convince an employer you are the top person for the job… much like a date.

Selling yourself is a combination of many factors pulled together to create one package.  Just as important as what you say and how you handle yourself during the interview, your outfit speaks volumes and sends messages to the employer about your worthiness of being hired.  Your presentation and image can either make or break you because it tells the employer much more about you than your taste in clothes.  It gives him insight about your competence and capability of handling the job… or not.

I’m frequently asked the same question by men of all ages – what should I wear to an interview?  I’m going to make it simple by giving you some guidelines, which will take the guesswork out of dressing appropriately for an interview, and, hopefully, reduce your anxiety.

Before we talk about which clothes to wear, let’s discuss grooming.

If it’s time for a haircut and facial hair trim, do it.  Being meticulously groomed says you want the job, in addition to other things; such as you are responsible, you have good judgment and are respectful.  So, take care of business and trim those locks.

I’m sure I don’t need to say this, but cleanliness in next to godliness.  No matter what the job is – digging ditches or corporate executive – be sure to clean up before you dress up.  Shower and shampoo hair on both head and face, shave, brush you teeth and use deodorant.  You might want to use a little extra deodorant, since chances are you’ll be doing a little extra perspiring.  Don’t forget to trim and clean your nails.  Nothing’s worse than shaking hands with someone who has engine grease under his nails, or whose nails are so long you risk being stabbed.

As far as wearing cologne goes, it’s up to you, but it’s safest not to wear any on an interview.  As a professional courtesy to the interviewer, who may have allergies or sensitivities to your cologne and the twenty other colognes he may be subjected to while interviewing that day; forgoing the cologne is best.

The rule of thumb on grooming for interviews is: clean yourself up like your life depends on it… which it may very well!

There are two basic outfits to wear when applying for jobs, depending on the job itself – Casual Job Interview Attire and Formal Business Interview Attire:

There are two basic outfits to wear when applying for jobs, depending on the job itself – Casual Job Interview Attire and Formal Business Interview Attire. - See more at:

Casual Job Interview Attire

A casual job would consist of any job where the clothes you’d wear while working are casual, or a job that would require a uniform of some sort; often a designated shirt with a business logo and khaki pants.  You get the idea.  However, it’s not advisable to wear the same type clothing to the interview.  I know it makes sense on some level, but you’re not showing up for work when going to the interview.  It’s not work you’re dressing for; it’s the interview.

Let’s take a look at the preferred casual job interview outfit to wear:

  • Sport jacket – avoid loud colors that aren’t conventional.  Nothing’s wrong with wearing your plaid jacket to the country club, but not to an interview.  Jackets should reflect the season and temperature.  A heavy wool jacket will look out of place during hot summer months.
  • Flat front khakis – do not have to be khaki color; any typical khaki pant color is acceptable.  Chinos would work, also.  Dark colored jeans that are in new condition can be worn to very casual places of business, like Starbucks, Wal-Mart, but if you have other options, play it safe and wear a casual pair of pants instead.
  • Button-up shirt – patterns are suitable; just make sure the print is on the conservative side.  No Hawaiian prints, please!  Plaid or striped shirts are a good choice.  A solid color works, as well.  Be sure the color of any shirt coordinates with the jacket.
  • Tie – yes, a tie is required.  Be sure the print and color are not too flashy or loud, and the tie compliments the shirt.  Solids and conservative stripes, depending on the shirt, are safe choices.
  • Socks – should match the color of your pants; meaning be the same color or as close as possible.
  • Shoes – casual leather oxfords and slip-ons, or a dress boot are all acceptable.  No athletic shoes or sandals today!
  • Belt – your belt must match your shoes in both color and leather type/style.
  • Jewelry – can be worn, but should not be overdone.  A watch is perfect to wear because it sends a message of responsibility… you care about being punctual.  One ring on a ring finger is acceptable, plus a wedding band if you wear one.  Small, conservative earrings should be safe to wear, but leaving them home is probably safer – it’s up to you.  An interview is not the time to accessorize with lots of jewelry.
  • Leather portfolio – this isn’t necessary, but adds a nice touch, making you look professional.  So, if you have one, go ahead and carry it.  It’s a great thing to carry resumes in and looks very mature and responsible.
  • Glasses – if you wear glasses, make sure they are clean and in good shape.  An interview is not the place to wear glasses held together with tape.  No sunglasses!


Formal Business Interview Attire.

Formal business interviews require you step it up a notch and pull out the suit:

  • Suit – they are not created equal.  Business suits are always on the conservative side and are typically navy or charcoal, or any variation of grey.  Subtle pinstripes are acceptable.  Avoid wearing a black suit because those tend to be more formal and for occasions like weddings, funerals, etc.  A jacket with either two or three buttons is fine; however, a rule of thumb for suits is two button suits look best on slender guys.  If you’re tall, cuffed pants work – if you’re shorter, wear un-cuffed pants.  See my article “How to Buy a Man’s Suit” for more ideas and tips.
  • Button-up shirt – the acceptable colors are white and blue.  Sorry, but that’s it for a formal interview.
  • Tie – choose a tie that says business!  Make sure it compliments both the suit and shirt.  Solid color ties are acceptable, but since the suit and shirt are solid colors, a complimentary tie with either stripes or a conservative pattern is a great look.  A tie has the power to not only jazz up an outfit, but sends a message… an assertive, alpha male type message.  Solid or pattern – it’s up to you; just be sure to stay away from loud, wild colors and patterns.
  • Pocket Square – is great, but keep it simple and professional by wearing a square fold only.  The pocket square should compliment the tie, but not match it.  It can pull colors from the tie, shirt or jacket in a way that flatters your outfit.  Avoid wearing squares that match the tie; despite that many are sold with matching ties.
  • Shoes – always wear dress shoes.  A round toe, closed lace oxford is ideal.  It can be capped or plain, and being dressy, should have a shine to the leather.  Avoid slip-ons and square toed shoes.
  • Belt – must match the shoes in color and leather type/style.
  • Jewelry – should be kept to a minimum for an interview.  It’s smart to wear a watch, since it says you care about punctuality.  A wedding band and one other ring worn on a ring finger are acceptable; as is a pair of small, conservative earrings.  However, my advice is to take the earrings out for a formal interview.  Dripping in jewelry is very unprofessional, and since you don’t know the company’s dress code, use your discretion.
  • Brief case – if you have one, use it.  Being more formal than a portfolio; it’s a great accessory for a formal interview.  If you don’t own one, but have a portfolio – use it – which also sends a message of professionalism.
  • Glasses – make sure they are clean and in good condition.


Make sure your clothes are clean and pressed, and shoes are polished.  You can be rockin the sharpest outfit at the interview, but if it’s unkempt… you may as well have stayed home.

It’s smart to be prepared by having your suit or sport jacket dry cleaned and hanging in your closet, since you never know when you’re going to get the call.  Think ahead and have your outfit ready, which will reduce worry and anxiety; enabling you to put your energy and focus into interviewing.  Looking your best will not only give you confidence, but will impress others who will be paying close attention to your image.

by Aaron Marino

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