I’ve never been one to accept the choice between having to be smart or pretty. Brains or beauty was never enough when I could be both. Society still has a bit of a hard time understanding that femininity does not automatically mean less efficient at work. How do you pick the perfect interview attire to get the job you want without leaning too far one way or the other?
I spent years managing businesses and consulting on HR and Operations. I have also worked in the fashion industry and spent plenty of time in front of a camera. I’ve interviewed thousands, hired hundreds and have spent hours reviewing almost as many style profiles of women that tell me they need help finding the perfect interview outfit.
What I’m trying to say is: I’ve done some significant work on all sides of this problem. I’ve found that each interview has its own perfect interview attire and I can give you guidelines!
First and always- do your research! You know to look up the position and standard facts about the company, but also make sure you focus in on the company culture. Companies are now hyper-focused on making sure they find the right candidate that not only can perform the job, but will fit in with the team they work with and align with the companies mission and core values.
Determine what culture the company boasts- and not mentioning culture is definitely one. I like to make it easy and start with four major categories. Uniformed, Startup, Corporate and Professional.
Uniformed: Some people call it “blue-collar”, but these are the environments that either require a uniform (i.e. public servants, low to mid level medical professionals) or safety gear (i.e. warehouse, oilfield, transportation).
Startup: These are your trendy, fun-loving, less regimented companies where you’ll find open work spaces and creatively named conference rooms. (i.e. tech companies, new business models or remote workforces)
Corporate: Think cubicles and large corporate HR departments. (i.e. call centers, banking and finance, data entry)
Professional: Most executive level positions fall under this category, but professional service providers usually expect the same out of their entry level employees. (I.e. law firms, consulting firms, high income client base)
Once you’ve done your research, you should be able to tell which category your future company will fall into. Now, imagine what those people wear to work every day. If you need help, look for a picture gallery on the site or google similar companies and do the same. Typically it is:
Uniformed: Provided uniform or casual dress with jeans allowed.
Startup: Smart casual- meaning appropriate jeans are okay if paired with a dressier shirt and shoes- but not quite a full business casual.
Corporate: Business casual- slacks and a button up or a skirt with a blouse and heels, loafers or flats.
Professional: Suits and sometimes optional ties.
Almost there. To get your final look, take half a step, to one full step up in dress and there you have it. The goal is to look your best for your category while also avoiding looking over or under-qualified. Applying to be a public servant may allow jeans when not in uniform, but interviewing in khakis or chinos is likely a better option.
Applying for a warehouse position where there is a very lax dress code typically leaves room for interviewing in nice jeans as long as you look like you cleaned up to make a great impression.
Startups and Corporate are typically best in business casual with a blazer thrown in for higher level positions. Professional will almost always require a suit but likely never require a tux. You can absolutely toss on your favorite cuff links or simple luxury handbag.
Unless you are applying for a position where the branding of luxury items is important or expected, try to avoid overt displays of brand names.
Hair should always be done and ideally pulled off your face if it is long, but no quality employer should give you a hard time about your natural hair or dreds. If you wear makeup, nude or classic tones let the focus be on your words but you don’t have to be a minimalist if you typically do a full face.
For bonus points, check LinkedIn or the website for a profile on who is actually interviewing you. Examine their style and mirror it back with your own twist. We all love to see ourselves in someone else, but make sure not to take it too far! You still want to convey your own personality through your own personalized interview attire.
You may also like: Shapewear Basics