Since most of my clients are applying to work in conservative, professional environments like law firms, investment banks, and corporations, I advise them to wear conservative, professional dress when going on an interview. That means a dark colored suit, a white or otherwise light-colored dress shirt, and a tie. Even within those constraints, there’s plenty of room for error for the unwary or inexperienced job seeker.
Pay attention to the details in your wardrobe. Such attention has several benefits. For one, going through your wardrobe can help put you in the proper mindset for the interview. But attention to detail is more than just an exercise in mental preparation. Interviewers will notice (and appreciate) your attention to detail, which demonstrates that you understand corporate culture and respect both the employer and the interviewer. Even more important is that in many work places, attention to detail is a job qualification. Being well dressed is a way for you to embody this job qualification.
So where are some ways where you can both avoid mistakes and shine? Where does this information come from? I spend a great deal of time talking to hiring decision-makers, including hiring directors, interviewers, personnel managers, and recruiters, especially as research for How to Get a Legal Job: A Guide for New Attorneys and Law School Students. So these tips aren’t just my opinion, they come from the most common complaints of the people who will be interviewing you.
- Your dress shirt is wrinkled and has sweat stains on the underarms. Do yourself a favor and double-check the cleanliness of your shirt. While you’re at it, make sure your shirt and starched and pressed. And don’t forget to wear antiperspirant! Sometimes job candidates skimp on these details because they assume that they’ll be wearing their suit jacket the entire time they are at the employer. If you’re wearing a suit jacket, then no one can see your wrinkled, stained shirt. Right? Wrong. For one thing, portions of your shirt will show—especially if you unbutton your jacket at any point, and especially if you need to take your jacket off!
- You forgot to wear an undershirt under your dress shirt. Yes, it’s customary to wear an undershirt under your dress shirt. Yes, even in the summer. Dress shirts are thinner and more see-through than you might think, and there are small gaps between the buttons. Lovely though it may be in another context, believe me that your interviewer does not want to see your dark chest hair. Period.
- Your shoes are scuffed. Take the time to polish up those shoes! A well-polished pair of shoes is critical to your overall message of professionalism and attention to detail. If you don’t have the skills or materials to polish your shoes well, then stop by a shoe-shiner to get the job done right and to bring even an older pair of shoes back to life.
- Your socks don’t match (either each other, or the suit). You might think that no one can see your socks, so who cares what they look like? Ah, but when you sit down, those hidden socks are suddenly revealed. Appropriate dress socks are a small investment, so make it! And if you like bright, show-stopping socks, please remember that the job interview isn’t the proper place to show off you eccentricity. You can do that after you have the job.
- Your suit or tie is out of date. Whether it’s wide polyester lapels or skinny leather ties or some other symbol of by-gone fashion, an out of date wardrobe suggests to the interview that you are out of date. Older job candidates should be particularly aware that out of date clothes reinforce stereotypes that older workers are out of touch with today’s modern workplace. Don’t let an old outfit sabotage your new career move.