When it comes to dressing to impress, nothing really beats the power of a first impression. And if you're vying for your dream job, the stakes are even higher to leave the right kind of impression on your potential employer.
The art of dressing for the interview has long been a mystery - and it's no wonder.
Standards for dressing for the office are constantly changing and vary largely depending on the type of company you work for (or are applying to). But amid all the ambiguity, there are a few key pointers that are almost always appropriate for dressing for an interview.
So, for those of us who might need an extra opinion - here are some of the do's and don'ts when dressing for an interview.
Dressing for an Interview: Do's and Don'ts
For most professionals, there are some obvious "don'ts" that probably come to mind - for men, sneakers or t-shirts likely don't seem appropriate. For women, wearing shorts or plunging necklines probably aren't good ideas.
But apart from the obvious, there are a lot of other things you need to consider when dressing for an interview that could make or break your first impression. So, what are some of the general guidelines for dressing for that dream job?
To tech recruiter Dave Arnold, President of Arnold Partners LLC, the art of dressing for the interview isn't always easy.
"For interviews it is tricky. You need to learn the culture of the company before your interview. If possible, go a day before and watch people come and go from the building to get a sense of the dress code, or find a contact on LinkedIn who works there and ask them," Arnold told TheStreet earlier this year. "Dress one level above your interviewer. Have your spouse, roommate, best friend, personal shopper approve your outfit."
Additionally, many experts advise researching the social media of the company you're interviewing to get a better idea of the dress code. However, even though it can be helpful to know what employees wear, it is generally always better to be overdressed rather than underdressed.
Do: Wear Neutral Colors
While showing your personality certainly isn't off the table when it comes to dressing for the job, it's generally a better bet to keep your colors on the neutral side to avoid being too bright or loud. Sticking to blues, tans, whites and blacks can often lend themselves to a more professional, business look and won't distract from your impressive resume or skills.
Don't: Be Too Flashy
On the flip side, avoid anything that is too flashy. For women, keep dress colors more neutral and don't go over-the-top with your jewelry, prints or textures (for example, maybe keep that bright red, shimmery dress back at home in the closet.)
As a general rule, if you'd wear it out on the town, probably opt for something more conservative.
Wearing professional dresses in different colors shouldn't scare you off - but just make sure to stick to deep or neutral colors like blues and burgundies.
Do: Go for Button-Downs
Button-downs are probably the most classic staple of a professional ensemble.
For men and women alike, button-downs are a great layer to help you look put together and confident. Perfect for layering, white button-downs go with any color blazer or jacket and look elegant tucked into a skirt or tailored trousers.
However, button-down doesn't have to mean boring - you can experiment with different fabrics or styles to spice up the staple and show a little personality. Perhaps try a chiffon fabric or a different color to help perk up your interview look.
Don't: Wear Low-Cut or Messy Shirts
For women, wearing low-cut shirts or dresses may seem to be an obvious "don't," but wearing shirts that wrinkle easily or that look a bit worn down may slip your notice.
Men and women alike should avoid wearing shirts that are crinkled or easily wrinkle, and should only wear tops that have been recently cleaned and don't look too shabby. You don't need to spend a lot of money on a top to have it look professional and put together - just make sure it is clean and ironed properly and you're good to go.
Do: Go for a Blazer
Just like the button-down, the ever-appropriate blazer is probably one of the most vital and versatile items to have in your closet.
Throwing on a blazer with tailored pants or a pencil skirt is the perfect way to dress up an outfit without looking too uptight. Because of its versatility with a variety of other interview-appropriate items, blazers are really worth the investment and will let your employer see you are professional and put together.
As a slightly more casual alternative, throwing on a sweater can be an equally nice-looking alternative that will still work with your outfit.
Don't: Wear Jeans
"To wear jeans or not to wear jeans" has been somewhat of the ongoing debate in the business casual world.
However, as a rule, even if your company allows employees to wear jeans, it's a good idea to leave the jeans at home and stick to trousers and tailored pants for the interview. Dressing one level above the corporate culture for the interview can help you come off as ultra-professional for the first impression and will indicate to your interviewer that you know how to properly dress for an interview - regardless of what others are wearing around you. Once again - overdress rather than underdress.
Do: Look Contemporary
While it's important to avoid anything that might be too "out there" for a first interview, looking contemporary and modern is a good way to show your potential employer that you keep up with the working world. Looking too dated might indicate you haven't been in the workforce for a while, and overall doesn't seem as appealing as a clean, contemporary look.
Stick to updated basics like pants, blouse and blazer combinations, or contemporary button-downs and tailored slacks for men.
Don't: Look Too Trendy
Along the same lines, looking too trendy might come off as flashy to some interviewers.
This is not the time to try out your new dad sneakers or snake-print dresses. Keep to the classics and instead opt for twists like unusual (but muted) prints, style details like ties or bows and structured blazers or jackets to look modern yet not too trendy.
Do: Keep It Simple
In general, you want to ensure your resume, personality and professionalism shine through - not your shoe choice.
Making sure to pick items that work well together, are generally more muted or simple yet contemporary and shoes and accessories that are clean and stylish are key to making a strong first impression - and will allow you to keep your interviewer focused on your qualifications.
Don't: Use Too Much Perfume or Cologne
One thing that may surprise professionals is that too much perfume or cologne can actually be a turn-off for some interviewers.
Overpowering your interviewer with a strong scent can put them off to you (and probably that scent). Make sure that you shower and use deodorant before your interview, but there is no need to bathe yourself in a scent before the big meeting. As a general tip, anything that distracts too much from you and what you have to say is probably best left behind.
Do: Research How People at the Company Dress
It can be helpful to do a bit of digging beforehand and see how people at the company typically dress.
For example, you probably wouldn't wear a three-piece suit to interview at a tech startup (which notoriously have had increasingly lax dress standards as the years have passed).
If you have contacts within the company, reach out to them to find out what people generally wear to the office, or do some research on LinkedIn or Facebook (FB - Get Report) to find out. And, when all else fails, use your common sense - if you're applying to a law firm or investment bank, you will likely need to dress more formally than if you are applying to a startup.
You're probably noticing a theme here.
Keep things simple and make sure your accessories aren't distracting or too over-the-top. For men, keeping things to a watch or briefcase are generally a safe bet, while women should focus on minimal jewelry that isn't too flashy or big. For reference, a sparkly choker might not be the best option for that first impression, whereas a nice, small pair of hoop earrings will look more appropriate.
Just like with the rest of your outfit, give yourself a second look and make sure you aren't loading your look with tons of jewelry or accessories. Other tips that can be useful are to avoid heavy makeup and make sure you aren't wearing headphones when you walk in to the interview.
What Is Business Casual?
Dressing for an interview will likely be along business casual lines. Learn more about how to dress business casual here.
The Bottom Line
While the guidelines for dressing for that dream job are still pretty murky, making sure that you look clean, put-together, neutral and contemporary can go a long way for first impressions with your potential boss.
For Diane Lloyde Roth, who has dressed CEOs at her luxury boutique L'Armoire in New Canaan, Conn., making sure your outfit is appropriate is key for getting that job.
"The first impression you make is visual. By not looking pulled together or smart, you have to then work backwards to overcome that first look," Roth told TheStreet earlier this year. "It is always preferable to look smart, not messy."
As long as you don't look too flashy or messy, you're probably good to go. Just make sure to get a second opinion if you are feeling nervous about a particular clothing choice.