The right interview outfit can pay dividends well beyond its price.  Although no company is likely to base a hiring decision directly on an applicant’s outfit, decisions are made every day based on the beliefs one’s appearance causes an interviewer to form.

Newest research reveals it takes as little as 7 seconds for someone to form a whole laundry list of impressions of you, and you want to be sure they are all positive ones.  And the same goes for influencing clients, bosses and peers once you land the job.

Despite what many so-called experts promote, a navy blue suit and white shirt is not the Magic Bullet. The right wardrobe choices for interviewing are far more nuanced.  Here is the real info you need to know to create a winning first impression:

  • DO YOUR HOMEWORK to understand how the people in this organization dress for work.  Is it a traditional suited environment, a free-wheeling casual/creative place or something in between.  Ask a friend on the inside, check out the photos on the company web site or in the annual report, or drive to the parking lot at closing time and watch the people coming and going.  Be aware that appearance styles within a large organization can vary widely from department to department, and adjust your intelligence gathering accordingly.
  • DRESS toward the top end of the looks your research reveals are appropriate.  Dressing too casually can make you appear less serious about your candidacy for the position.
  • DON’T over-dress, though.  A formal business suit in a more relaxed company can make you appear desperate, uptight and trying too hard, or position you in the dreaded “over-qualified” category.
  • DON’T hesitate to be stylish, but not over-the-top trendy.  When your look is current it suggests that your skills and attitudes are up-to-date too.
  • DEFINE Business Casual with an emphasis on “business” and avoid social-casual attire.  Choose instead:
      •  Conservatively-colored slim skirt or trousers with a shell and blazer or a twin sweater set, leather flats or low-heel pumps. The over-layer top adds subtle authority and the shell stays smoother underneath than a cotton shirt.
  • DISTINCTIVE touches can help you be more memorable to an interviewer who has talked to multiple candidates.  LinkedIn Influencer Jeff Haden – in an article about what interviewers want to see from candidates – shares that “the more people we interview for a job, and the more spread out those interviews, the more likely we are to remember certain candidates by impressions rather than by a long list of facts.”   A scarf or interesting necklace can do the trick.
  • DOUBLE-check the details:
    • Shoes polished, appropriate hosiery or dark socks
    • Garments clean, crisply pressed, well fitted.
    • Fingernails groomed.
    • No visible wear on belt or handbag.
    • Subtle but polished makeup.
    • Neatly trimmed and styled hair; natural-looking color with no visible roots; no decorative hair ornaments.
    • Tailored earrings, nothing glitzy, noisy or dangling.  One ring per hand (wedding set counts as one unit).
    • No cologne or other fragrances. (One client was pleased when an interviewer mentioned her fragrance by name … until he revealed that it had been the favorite of his ex-wife – oops!) 
  • DEMONSTRATE your preparation; carry a nice portfolio with personal business cards, resume or other materials and a quality pen for taking notes or completing required paperwork.

For more traditional settings, the authoritative symbolism of high-contrast attire still applies, but you can have more flexibility in you color combinations.  With a navy pantsuit, try a sage or jade green shell for example.  Pair charcoal gray with blush, or dark brown with dusty aqua blue.


However,  avoid wearing clothes with extreme light/dark contrast – black and white is the classic example – because the intensity of the combination will overpower the color pattern in your face and pull attention to the garments and away from your communications center.  The paler your coloring, the more gentle the contrast level you can wear and still keep focus on your face and your communications.

Look for opportunities to repeat the color of your hair and/or your eyes in the top half of your outfit.  A scarf provides one great option to work in those colors. By doing so you subtly encourage the interviewer to make eye contact with you more readily and sustain that eye contact longer, creating a positive, friendly emotional connection.

A knit shell or fine-gauge sweater will look and feel better under a jacket than a cotton button-up shirt. And if you arrive and find yourself over-dressed, that sleeveless shell will let you easily push up the jacket sleeves to relax the look a notch or two.

If your interview outfit is a level or two dressier than your everyday wear, plan for at least one practice run in advance of the real event.  You want to be sure everything feels comfortable and familiar so your positive body language won’t be interrupted by fiddling with your clothes.  Because you never get a second chance to make a positive impression…

We’re always available to help you plan the most effective outfit for an interview, important meeting or presentation.

About Nancy Nix Rice

I help other women feel confident about how they look every day - regardless of their age, budget, lifestyle or the size tag in their pants - so they put wardrobe concerns on the back burner and go share their gifts with the world.

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