Job interviews are tricky. You want to make a great first impression, while also fitting in, while also being professional. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, especially since you typically have little or no information going into your first meeting.
This article is going to focus mostly on determining the correct level of dress, and not so much the accessories or items you bring. As we’ve mentioned before, there are lots of great things you can bring to stand out in the workplace, so we will not get into those here.
1) Ask what the dress code is
You are always going to have either a phone call or email to set up the in-person meeting, so be sure that before you hang up, you ask what the dress code is. Most people in the Human Resources departments have become pretty good about including what to bring and how to dress in their invitations, but this does not always happen.
Even if they tell you the dress code, however, this is not always enough information. If you are told casual or business casual, you will need more clarification.
One company that considers their dress code casual is actually business-casual, perhaps because they are in an environment around a bunch of suits, that anything less than that becomes casual by comparison. Do people wear shorts and flip flops? Or, nice jeans with a nice collar-less t-shirt? Or are they more polo shirt and khaki types of dress?
Do not get too caught up in quizzing them about how to dress. If they say casual, respond with something like, “Definitely, sounds good. And just to make sure that I’m on the same page as you guys, I’ve been into companies where casual means shorts and flip flops, and others where everyone is still walking around in dress shirts with rolled up sleeves. I usually like to dress up like management- so how do they, or the person that is interviewing me, normally dress?”
This is important because although the overall dress code might be pretty relaxed, but once you get into management the requirements might change. You cannot come in dressed worse than the person interviewing you. They are guarding the door to your next step in the process, and you do not want to be looked down on for something that does not even related to your skills.
If the HR employee tells you that it is business casual, you should ask for similar clarifications. To some companies it means dress pants and dress shirt tucked in, but no jacket and tie. To others it means an untucked polo shirt suffices.
The only one that does not really need clarification is if they say it is a suit and tie dress code. If this is the case, bow ties are okay; but not knitted ties.
And, if you after quick questioning of the HR person you cannot get an answer that you like, do not keep pressing. You want to be remembered for your skills and questions based around how you will help their company succeed, not remembered for your questions based around fashion.
However, if you still do not have a clear conception of how their people dress, perhaps it is time to do some research. Look at their website and see if you can find any pictures of them during their work day.
Or, do a Google image search with the company name, and maybe an executive name, and see if you can get something that is not a pre-planned photo shoot type of picture.
Or, consider swinging by their parking lot around lunch time and seeing how people come and go from the building.
Keep in mind, some newer companies these days literally have an “anything goes” dress policy, because they feel their employees being comfortable means getting more productivity out of them.
However, with that being said…
2) Dress 1 notch above their dress code for the first interview
There are several reasons for this. You want to stand out from the sea of applicants, but you also do not want to offend or come across as not taking things seriously.
If you are going to make an error in dressing, make sure it goes in the direction of dressing up slightly better, not worse.
If it is a suit and tie requirement, pop on a lapel pin or pocket square.
If they wear business casual, wear a jacket with no tie.
If they wear casual, you wear business casual.
You get the idea.
After the first interview, however, it will really depend on the company and how your interviewer dressed, to determine the next best step forward.
If you are in a suit and tie, and nobody else is, it does not really matter what the HR person said, you want to be a little bit closer to their level of dress on your follow up interview.
Getting hired is just as much about showing that you can fit in with their company culture as it is showing that you have the skills to benefit their company.
On interview #2 and onward, try to be one of them. How do people in the position you are going for dress, and how do people in management dress? Find a nice middle ground there that fits your style.
That is, unless it violates with our final rule:
3) Do not dress less than you normally do
Do not dress simply to match them and fit in if you cannot normally completely match them with your style.
You may be a slick-dressing salesman who works for a startup that is hiring their first salesperson. That salesperson may be calling on Fortune 500 companies, and those outside companies will not care about your company’s dress code.
It need not be something as serious as that either. Perhaps lots of people wear flip flops, but you just do not, for whatever reason.
I personally wear business casual pretty much all the time in my free time. That is just my regular style, unless it is an occasion to dress up. In the past I worked for casual work environments and still kept my business casual look. I just feel more productive and professional dressed that way (and many psychological studies show this makes sense).
So, in the end, make sure you are not putting up a front, and that you are presenting what they would be getting. Although I might ask you to consider that previously linked study and spruce up your fashion a bit in the name of productivity, if you do not normally dress up.
Are there any other tips you guys have for job interview fashion or to help with job interviews in general? Let us know in the comments, or on Facebook.
And, as always, if you want to step up your game and stand out, you should: