How To Dress for A Job Interview


According to Carol Goman in her Forbes’ article “Seven Seconds to Make a First Impression”, people make eleven major decisions about you in the first seven seconds of meeting. How you look is going to play a major role in their assessment.

When you are interviewing for a job what do you wear to create the best impression?

Here are some interview dress rules according to Ann Kukulies, Career Assistant at Howard Community College’s Couselling and Carre, and Brooks Jones, Personal Stylist Manager at Nordstrom Tysons Corner:

“People make first impressions in the first 30 seconds, so that’s neat clean, not to much makeup”, says Ann Kukulies. Always err on the side of being conservative. It’s always best to dress at least one level above what the daily wear of the place you are interviewing is….You want to make the impression that you know how interact with (their) type of client.”

 1. Shoes- Always wear closed-toed shoes. As for heel height be fairly conservative.

Ann Kukulies would not suggest anyone go to a job interview in 4” spikes. A flat or pump is good. You want to avoid coming across as if you want them to look at your attire not you. The whole idea of a job interview is you want them to focusing on you not what you are wearing.

Brooks Jones recommends women not wear flats at all.

 2. Shoe color- Your shoes should match your outfit. They should be conservative not clashing; not the focus. If you are interviewing at a bank, legal office or management office stick with black or navy if you were wearing a navy suit. As you get into the less conservative industries like teaching or hotel retail or mid-management in IT, wearing a nude or taupe shoe may not seem unusual.

3. Hose- Always wear hose with a skirt. Most of the time you are going to wear nude hose or a form of black.

4. Suit color – It should be a conservative black, navy or maybe grey. In the summer time when it’ s hot you can go with a linen suit but still in a dark color. “In other words the fabric might change but the idea would stay the same”

For a casual, trendy or entry level service type job go with slacks and white blouse or light color blouse as opposed to a suit, suggests Kukulies. This is helpful to know. We all have to start somewhere to get to the top!

5. Pant suit or skirt suit? – “It can be either. The most formal is a suit with skirt.

6. Suit or separates? – For business casual settings such as teaching, mid-management, customer service, and administrative assistant positions you could go with separates ie. navy blue skirt and tan jacket. As long as they are coordinating fabrics so you look put together.

 7. Can you wear a dress? – Yes. Wear a black sheath dress with a black jacket over it for business formal.

8. Skirt Length– Mid knee. That’s the perfect length. Because when you sit the skirt comes up. When you sit down it is just above your knee. “You don’t want to sit down and the dress comes up to mid-thigh. “It’s just a matter of sitting and standing and asking yourself is this the impression I want to give?”.

Brooks Jones weighs in here. His advice – wear pants and avoid the skirt length issue all together.

9. Nails and jewelry-Finger nail polish should be neutral, either light pink or something like that. No long dangly earrings. If you are wearing a silver necklace then you want silver earrings kind of thing. Nothing that is going to be too symbolic or will make you think “I wonder why she is wearing that necklace?”.

10. Hairstyle? Up or down? Long or short? Doesn’t matter just have it nicely styled.

11. How do you look professional and still stand out? If anything you are trying to neutralize your appearance. What you are trying to use to make you stand out is your experience, your skillset, what you know about the job, those kinds of things not how you look.

12. Never wear cologne or perfume to an interview– People are allergic to scents and think about the fact that people are going to be doing interviews in a small office.

 13. Handbag- Carry a conservative smaller purse. Or carry a portfolio or briefcase and forget the purse. Preferably leather.

Remember you always want to have extra copies of your resume, cover letter, and reference sheets with you.

Specific advice for grad students from Howard Community College Counseling and Career Services:

  •  Tell everyone you meet that you are looking. 75% of jobs are discovered because of networking. Networking just means talking to people and letting them know. Like in casual conversation; “Oh what do you do?” , “Well I’m graduating soon. I’m looking to get into the field of ________” You never know when someone is going to say- oh you know my brother is in that field.”
  • Make sure you have a good resume, and a good cover letter.
  • Make sure you have your outfit ready to go.
  • Have a professional sounding email address; Not or and voice-mail that includes your name or phone number, preferably both.

 One thing you should never say or do?

“Never say anything negative about a former employer, or an instructor, or the school you attended. Negativity should never be part of an interview. Ever.” advises Kukulies. This is good advise for work life in general!

Good luck!

See you sitting on a Fortune 500 board one day!



P.S. What are your experiences with interview dressing? Please share.

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