What Shall I Wear

Dress for Success 1At a time when hardly anyone dresses for anything anymore, it’s hard to know how you should dress for an interview. The old rule used to be to wear a suit (men and women) for any business interview. We all know that’s not the case anymore.

Just the other day, I purchased tickets for an evening cabaret performance in San Francisco, and this is how they described their dress code: 

We ask that our guests do not wear shorts, baggy, torn or ripped jeans, athletic gear, sandals, ball caps, chains, or sweatshirts or shirts with hoods. Cocktail attire is recommended or nice denim.

Cocktail or nice denim? What a choice! And I can’t tell you the last time I wanted to go out dressed in athletic gear! For this venue, it seems that any reasonable outfit will be fine.

It’s a bit trickier when it comes to interview attire. And it totally depends on the situation, mostly the company and its industry. Most companies have adopted a casual dress code and you may see employees dressed in jeans, especially in the tech industry. However, you should not go to the interview in jeans or shorts. The best rule of thumb is to dress up one or two levels. Business casual clothes are most often appropriate – nice slacks/skirt, with a button-up shirt/blouse or an appropriate sweater. Add a nice jacket for an appropriate addition and in many cases, a tie, for men of course.

For most traditional business situations, you’ll want to dress up a notch, a jacket for sure and sometimes a suit. This is especially true for companies in finance, management consulting, and others with customer facing roles. Recently I delivered a presentation to a group of employees in a large financial services corporation, a very traditional, conservative environment. I was sure to wear my nicest suit and carefully observed attendees’ clothing.

All of them were dressed in “formal” business attire. The men wore dark suits with white or light blue shirts and fairly conservative ties. The women were also dressed in “formal” business attire, and it was noticeably fashionable, almost every one. Not trendy, but up to date and appropriate for the occasion. This included a few dresses, mostly with matching jackets.Dress for Success 2

As part of your research in preparing for the interview, conduct an investigation to determine their “dress code” by asking a friend if you know someone who works or has worked there, or by calling HR.

It is most important to wear clean, pressed clothes and freshly polished shoes. In deciding between two choices that meet these criteria, choose the outfit that you feel most comfortable in. I hope I don’t need to say that you must not wear anything that is sexy or shows skin between your neck (or a bit lower) and knees. Basically you want the interviewer’s attention to be focused on you and your qualifications, not your cleavage or clothes, jewelry, etc.

Dress for Success 3 Additional tip: Since many people have allergies/sensitivities to perfume, be careful with fragrances. Most body and hair care products are scented. Choose products that are fragrance free or have a very faint fragrance.



KRON InterviewHi I’m Mauri, President/CEO of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. My favorite client update is, “I did everything you told me to and I got the job!”

Career Insiders’ Talent Acquisition services are focused on executive and senior management level positions in sales/marketing, finance, corporate legal, and HR. Please contact me for more info.


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