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Q: Help! I have an interview coming up and I don’t know what to wear. I know the world has changed since the last time I looked for a job, and people aren’t wearing suits any more. What should I wear instead?
A: At a time when hardly anyone dresses for anything anymore, it’s hard to know how to dress for an interview. The old rule used to be to wear a suit — men and women — for any business interview. We all know that’s not the case anymore.
Recently I purchased tickets for an evening cabaret performance in San Francisco. This is how they described their dress code: “We ask that our guests do not wear shorts, baggy, torn or ripped jeans, athletic gear, sandals, ball caps, chains, or sweatshirts or shirts with hoods. Cocktail attire is recommended or nice denim.” Cocktail or nice denim? What a choice! And I can’t tell you the last time I went out dressed in athletic gear! For this venue, it seems that any reasonable outfit would be fine.
It’s a bit trickier when it comes to interview attire. And it totally depends on the situation, mostly the company and its industry. Most companies have adopted a casual dress code; you may see employees dressed in jeans, especially in the technology industry. However, you shouldn’t go to an interview in jeans or shorts. The best rule of thumb is to dress up one or two levels. Business casual clothes are most often appropriate: nice slacks/skirt, with a button-up shirt/blouse or an appropriate sweater. Add a jacket, and in many cases, a tie, for men of course.
For most traditional business situations, you’ll want to dress up a notch; a jacket for sure and sometimes a suit. This is especially true for companies in finance, management consulting, and others with customer facing roles. Recently I delivered a presentation to a group of employees in a large financial services corporation, a traditional, conservative environment. I wore my nicest suit, and carefully observed attendees’ clothing. All of them were dressed in “formal” business attire. The men in dark suits with white or light blue shirts and fairly conservative ties. The women were noticeably fashionable, almost every one. Not trendy, but up to date and appropriate for the occasion, including a few dresses, mostly with matching jackets.
As part of your research in preparing for the interview, investigate the company’s “dress code” by asking a friend if they know someone who works or has worked there, or by calling human resources. It’s most important to wear clean, pressed clothes and freshly polished shoes. In deciding between choices that meet these criteria, choose the outfit that you feel most comfortable in. I hope I don’t need to say that you must not wear anything that’s sexy or shows skin between your neck — or a bit lower — and knees. You want the interviewer’s attention to be focused on you and your qualifications, not your cleavage, or clothes, or jewelry.
Additional tip: Since many people have allergies/sensitivities to perfume, be careful with fragrances. Most body and hair care products are scented. Choose products that are fragrance-free or have a faint smell.
Mauri Schwartz is President / CEO of Career Insiders www.CareerInsiders.com.
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