You’re Not Going Clubbing! Interview Attire 101

Nice threads

When you're interviewing for a job, first impressions are everything. To start, wearing the appropriate interview attire is key.

Over at “Laid Off And Looking”, one of the bloggers posts about the “Perils of Interview Attire.” He received positive feedback about his skills, but a middle manager told him after his second round that he was concerned about his attire. 

“Too inappropriate, and casual” John was told. When he dressed up in a suit for the final round, the CEO then mentioned to “never wear a tie to an interview at a startup!” Safe to say, John didn't get the job. So what gives?

Honestly, it amazes me how clueless John is after 12 years in the work force.  If you are interviewing at a start up, there's no business looking like a penguin in the tropics. And if you are interviewing at a law firm, you better not think a polo shirt and khakis are appropriate interview attire.

Related: Don’t Join A Startup If You Want To Get Rich: Baremetrics Case Study

Interview Attire 101

So what is the best interview attire when you're interviewing for a new job? Here's the basics of interview attire today.

  • Always dress a half step up than what the company's dress code expects.
    • If the company is a startup where jeans and a t-shirt are the norm, wear khakis, loafers, and a long sleeve collared shirt. 
    • If the company's dress code is khakis and a long sleeve collared shirt, wear the same but add a blazer! 
    • And if the company's dress code expects a blazer, wear a suit! 

The idea is to show your prospective employer R-E-S-P-E-C-T! The more traditional the employer, the more they demand respect through dress. Be careful though, because you also don't want to look out of place and over address either. Hence, you can never go wrong being a half step more formal.

  • First impressions count. Your objective is to blend in, but from an outsider's approach.  
    • In other words, you must dress to give the employer respect, but not dress overly formal or casual so that they can't see you as one of them.
    • Blend in like Rambo in the Jungle. If you have no idea how they address, loiter in the lobby on a Monday to get a general sense.
    • There's been a slow loosening of the dress code over the years.  That said, there is an unwritten rule that you have to put in your time before you are allowed to dress down. Hence, keep up to date with appearances.
  • For women, the same rules apply. I've had so many interviewees dress like they are about to go clubbing, it's ridiculous.
    • The employer wants to imagine interviewees as a future equal colleague not as a date.
    • Dressing suggestively gives off very bad impressions, and is absolutely not appropriate. Don't try to look “cute or sexy.” Interview attire is about being professional and respectful.
    • Don't risk making a fashion statement and stay conservative!

Dressing appropriately should be one of the LAST things you should worry about during the interview process. If you don't have this basic step down, you're going to have a snowball's chance in hell when the good stuff begins!

In other words, don't spend hours deciding what to wear. It's not a fashion show. Select an appropriate outfit that meets suitable interview attire, then really focus on what you're going to say.

If You Want To Quit Your Job

Are you unhappy with your job? If you want to leave a job you no longer enjoy, I recommend negotiating a severance instead of quitting.

If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you can not only get a severance check, but also potentially subsidized healthcare, deferred compensation, and worker training. When you get laid off, you're also eligible for ~26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.

Conversely, if you quit your job you get nothing. Check out, How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye, on how to negotiate a severance. I first published the book in 2012 and have recently expanded it to over 200 pages with new resources, strategies, and additional case studies thanks to tremendous reader feedback.

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11 thoughts on “You’re Not Going Clubbing! Interview Attire 101”

  1. I work for a construction company, doing their IT. The IT field is usually a somewhat formal, even nerdy (look at Geek Squad uniforms…) but knowing this was a construction company, I toned it down quite a bit. After being here a few years, I realize even my most casual outfit was overdress for the job, though I did get it. Now I come in jeans and a hoodie..I blend right in with the orange oil-covered jumpsuits and the cowboy boots and hardhats.

    You really need to play to your audience.
    .-= Jesse´s last blog ..How To Cut Costs At The Dentist =-.

  2. steve in w ma

    get the secretary’s name is you ask him or her for wardrobe advice. If it turns out to be wildly inappropriate, apologize up front for the inappropriate garb to your interviewer and say, I’d like to apologize for my outfit. I spoke with x person on (date) and he/she informed me that this would be appropriate for the work setting here. I’m very embarrassed that it really turns out not to be. I hope before we get going that you will accept my apology for my inappropriate dress.”

    It will definitely help, even if it doesn’t pull the thing out of the fire completely. And you get to address your decision making process etc with your interviewer. And the secretary might get a little of what he or she deserves, too.

  3. Better to dress a little more formal than not enough. Even though my office is mostly biz casual I expect to see candidates in a suit/tie. Charlie

  4. Good idea about calling the receptionist! Unless she is evil, she will gladly tell you. This is some good information as I will be interviewing next Spring for potential summer (and hopefully beyond summer) employment

  5. Scouting the Dresscode

    The loitering idea works fine, except here in NYC. It can be impossible to get out of the ground-floor lobby unless you have an appointment with someone upstairs. Loitering will let you spy on the folks who work in many companies in the same building. If they carry a gym bag or laptop case with the company name, you might get some insight, but that person could be a client going to see their company contact.

    1. Janet – You’re right. Getting into one of those NYC office buildings is like trying to penetrate Fort Knox, it ain’t gonna happen! Loitering is really the most desperate, last case scenario. Usually most will know someone who works in the industry, or have a general clue.

      If you want to really make sure, people should just call the receptionist and ask. S/he will happily tell you.

      Thanks for stopping by!


  6. Resort at Squaw Creek

    Pretty spot on Shogun. Secret is to blend in, I agree. One guy came in a black corduroy blazer (with tie though) to law firm interview. It was freaking hilarious! Maybe it’s speaking about the law firm to attract guys like that in the first place, haha.


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