Job interviews are similar to the presidential debates that occur every election season. Two people are given the opportunity to ask and answer questions so that they can see if the candidate is right for the position. In both an interview and a debate, much thought is given to wardrobe. If you’re running for president, you’re probably going to incorporate the patriotic colors of red, white and blue. If you’re applying for a job, you’re going to stick with conservative tones. Why? Because clothes are the first impression you make — even before you speak a single word to the interviewer.
We asked Simon Kneen, head of design and creative director at Banana Republic, to weigh in with his interview outfit tips for job seekers.
Get the best fit
Most job seekers are trying to look professional for their interviews, but sometimes a few simple missteps can harm their image and make the wrong impression.
“Men typically confuse comfortable clothing with items that are ‘oversized,’ and additional tailoring may be needed to achieve just the right fit,” Kneen says. He recommends asking if the store offers tailoring or checking with your local dry cleaner.
Women often encounter a similar problem if they don’t choose the right clothing for their body types.
“Accentuating curves and hiding problem areas are important when dressing for any event. Cinching a dress at the waist really is forgiving on almost everyone,” he says.
Tailored clothes help your professional image, but they’re pointless if you’re going to show up looking like you just pulled your suit out of the bottom of the hamper. (Note: Always make sure your clothes are clean a few days before your interview so you’re not actually pulling your suit out of the bottom of the hamper.)
“Once you’ve nailed your best fit, always be sure your pieces are properly pressed before heading to the office or an interview. Showing up in clean, non-wrinkled apparel shows you care about your appearance and yourself,” Kneen says. Non-iron, wrinkle-free shirts and pants are also good for job seekers who don’t always have the time to drop their clothes at the cleaners.
Keep it subtle
As a rule of thumb, what you wear should not be more memorable than what you say during the interview. In some fields, such as interior design, fashion and hair styling, it’s often acceptable – and in some cases, preferred – to show attention to trends and take risks with your wardrobe. For most, however; employers prefer their workers to dress on the side of caution. Basic black or blue suits and skirts are safe bets for an interview, as they’re unlikely to raise any eyebrows. That doesn’t mean your wardrobe must be devoid of personality, however.
“Too much color and pattern can come across as too trendy or bold, especially for an interview,” Kneen says. “Solid, muted colors are always best for interview apparel and can be punched up with a bright necklace, tie or even belt.”
Use those accessories to personalize your attire and show that you have attention to detail and good judgment. Yes, an interviewer will certainly remember the interviewee who wears a paisley suit, but she is probably more likely to hire the job seeker who wore the black suit with the paisley tie.
Keep the skin to a minimum
There are no universal rules for workplace wardrobes, but you can usually assume that employers don’t want you to bare too much skin at the office. Even before you’re hired, employers want to know you have good judgment, which means dressing like you’re already on the job. Or at least dressing cautiously until you know how lax the company’s dress code is.
“Some office environments are of course more casual than others, but the general rule of thumb is never to show too much skin,” Kneen says. “If you’re sporting a shorter hemline, be conscious of proportions, and wear a higher neck or long-sleeve blouse, and if you’re going sleeveless or strapless, keep your hemlines on the lengthier side.”
For men, most interview attire doesn’t lend itself to showing too much skin. Still, wearing jeans, shorts and tank tops are too casual for most workplaces and are more suitable for a visit to the beach, not an interview.
An interview is your chance to show an employer that you’re the candidate who has the skills, personality and judgment to work within an organization and represent the brand. When choosing the right clothes for the interview, your goal is to display your professionalism and a little personality without overshadowing your qualifications. If you follow these simple guidelines, you won’t have to spend time worrying about your wardrobe, and instead, you can focus on preparing your answers that will land you the job.