Dressing for success: How to master your job interview look

What to wear—and what not to wear

If you’re on the hunt for your first job, or considering transitioning to a new role, you may already be practicing your handshake and fine tuning your elevator pitch. But, have you given thought to what you’ll wear to the interview? How you present yourself could have a big impact on the impression you make, so make sure you dress for success.

We talked job-interview style tips with Lauren Simmonds, Sallie Mae team member, Chief Fashion Officer of style blog, The Fearless Fashionista, and author of Find Your Fabulous.

What does “dress to impress” mean to you?

Lauren: When I think about dressing to impress, I want to ensure that my clothing fits the environment and the occasion. What’s appropriate and impressive in one situation may not work in a different context. I use my clothing to communicate, and I want to ensure that I’m sending the right message.

Why do you think it matters what you wear to a job interview?

Lauren: When you show up to a job interview, you’re being evaluated based on your resume, how you present yourself, and a variety of other factors. Your appearance is one of the first things people notice about you, and although your skills, talent, and experience are important, your ability to “look the part” also matters.

What’s your go-to outfit for making a good first impression?

Lauren: For job interviews, I typically wear a suit with a modern cut, and for more conservative industries I stick with neutral colors. Although there has been a widespread shift towards casual attire, an interview is an opportunity to demonstrate your level of professionalism, which is reflected in the way you present yourself. Different industries and roles may require more or less formal attire, but one of your responsibilities as a jobseeker is to find out about the accepted “norms” at the company where you’ll be interviewing. There is more flexibility at companies where there is a more artistic or casual vibe, but it doesn’t hurt to put more effort into your interview attire—even in those situations.

Another thing to think about is the fit of your clothes. Anything that is too big, too small, or generally ill-fitting can detract from your look. This can also be a source of discomfort for you, which can in turn make you feel less confident.

Is there something people should absolutely not wear?

Lauren: I recommend staying away from anything you’d wear to a nightclub or party, sheer clothing, anything that’s too tight, short or skimpy, as well as pieces that are overly trendy. The goal is to send the message that you’re taking the interview process seriously.

Is it ever okay to wear jeans to an interview?

Lauren: If we’re talking about a corporate or office setting, I don’t think it’s appropriate to wear jeans to an interview—even if you’re interviewing at a company where jeans are acceptable. I love jeans, and wear them to work quite often, but when you’re looking to make a great first impression, jeans aren’t the way to go. Once you land the job and get familiar with the company and culture, you can then determine if it’s appropriate to wear jeans.

Do different job fields require different interview apparel?

Lauren: Absolutely. For example, I would dress more conservatively when interviewing at a financial services company vs. a tech company in Silicon Valley. Not only should you dress for the field you’re looking to get into, but think about the role you’re interviewing for and/or how you’d like to be perceived. We live in a world where appearances matter, and if presenting a polished and professional image can help you get in the door, the effort is worthwhile.

Do I have to buy an entirely new outfit for an interview?

Lauren: I’m a huge proponent of shopping your closet and maximizing your existing pieces. If you have appropriate interview attire, I’d suggest mixing and matching what you have. Switch up your blazers, accessories, shirts, blouses, belts, and shoes to help stretch your wardrobe.

Pantyhose – yes or no?

Lauren: Outside of a job interview I am generally against pantyhose— particularly if they’re flesh-colored, because I don’t think they have a modern feel. However, for job interviews pantyhose or tights are appropriate if you’re wearing a skirt that exposes a significant portion of your legs. The coverage adds a level of polish that is generally not achieved with bare legs.

What are different ways you can show your personality through your appearance during an interview?

Lauren: Thank you for asking this question. I love using my attire to give people insight into my personality. If you’re wearing a suit with neutral colors, pairing it with a shirt or blouse in a bold color or interesting print can be great way to bring your outfit to life. Details like a unique piece of jewelry or a statement tie can also add a nice twist to your ensemble. Scarves, shoes, handbags, and briefcases that deviate from the norm can be great conversation starters. Make sure these items are interesting enough to be noticeable, but don’t become too much of a distraction.

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