How to Dress for a Job Interview

It's better to be understated.

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Dressing the part for a job interview can be as important as what your resume says about you. Underdress, and you may not be taken seriously for the job you want. Overdress, and you may be seen as not “getting” the corporate culture of the company. Here’s some advice from industry experts to help you look your best on your next job interview:

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It’s better to be understated. Leave behind the purple nail polish and nose stud for your next job interview. While you want your interviewer to remember you, it’s best to be remembered for your skills and sharp wit rather than the fishnet stockings.

“Many companies have a code, either written or unwritten, about certain things like shoe styles, jewelry, stockings, fingernails, and tattoos/piercings. Until you know differently, assume your prospective employer requires that those things are conservative,” advises Keith Pearson, President and Vice Chairman of Pearson Partners International, Inc.

Dress for the company’s culture. Is the company you’re interviewing with conservative or liberal when it comes to dress code? Don’t be afraid to ask. Jenson Crawford, a software engineering executive, suggests dressing slightly better than corporate culture dictates:

“Find out how people in the position you’re applying for dress at that company. Then dress one—and only one—level better. If, as is the case with many startup software firms, people are wearing jeans and a t-shirt, then come to the interview in business casual pants and a collared shirt. Showing up at a startup firm like this in a suit may cause a negative first impression.”

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It’s perfectly fine to ask the hiring manager about the dress code. Reading a company’s website may also indicate whether it has a very casual company culture. If the company has a Facebook page, you might be able to find some photos of how people are dressed in the office.

Colors do matter. Have you ever given thought to the colors you wear to a job interview? They’re as important as the style and cut of the clothing you wear. Richard S. Deems, author of Make Job Loss Work for You, suggests softer colors for a social services position, and dark blue for a management position at a bank, insurance company, or manufacturing organization.

“Men should wear ties that match, and the traditional red tie is always acceptable,” says Deems. It’s better to stick to subtle colors, and you should always coordinate.

Make sure your look is up to date. If you haven’t updated your work wardrobe in a while, a job interview may be the perfect excuse.  “Wearing out-of-date suits shows your lack of willingness to keep informed of the current trends,” says Ritika Trikha of CareerBliss.

Trikha suggests avoiding coats with lapels that are too wide or too skinny, as they date a coat. Lapels should be between about 2 inches wide. Trikha says that thinner ties are more modern, and that a tasteful, muted color tie works best.

It’s best to avoid trendy looks altogether, and stick to classic clothing, like a white button-down shirt (for men or women) and a simple skirt or pants.

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Consider how others see you.The last thing you want to be is an amusing story at the company you interview with. If you take your interview outfit too far in the wrong direction, you’ll could be the topic discussed around the water cooler, but not in the hiring conversation.

It’s not just about how you dress, but the attitude you convey as well. “One young woman came to an interview with Ugg boots and a Starbucks coffee cup. She drank coffee while I was interviewing her. Her outfit as well as her attitude was too casual,” says Fauzia Burke, president of FSB Associates, LLC.

It’s important to see yourself through other people’s eyes. An interview is a time to dress to impress, so take time to put together the clothing you wear for a job interview. It just might be the factor that helps you get you the job.

Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs, a niche job board for public relations, communications and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.