What to wear to the job interview

Attire tips for males and females in diverse work settings

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With a freshly-minted LIS or MLIS degree in hand, you’ve landed the interview for a position you truly want. Or, you’ve interviewing for awhile now with limited success.

Other than thinking of questions you could be asked and which questions you will ask at the interview, you also have to consider what to wear and how you look. All else being equal, a candidate’s appearance and bearing could be the deciding factor in a competitive situation.

Here are a few basic tips to help you give the correct first impression and boost your chances of landing that job.

  1. Working at a federal agency library isn’t the same as working for a law firm library, and neither of those places will be anything like an information services job at a Fortune 500 company. In addition, if you’re a graduate from rural Texas interviewing for a job in New York City, you may have to make some concessions to account for the weather, culture and other considerations. If in doubt, wear a suit or at least a pair of dress slacks or skirt and a matching tailored shirt or blouse.
  2. If your shoes are scuffed, dirty and in need of some TLC, they tell the interviewer that you don’t care about your appearance or that you didn’t take the time to prepare. Or if you’re a woman wearing strappy sandals or stiletto heels, your judgment may be questioned. Shoes that are conservative, clean and polished are your safest option.
  3. Good-grooming is essential. You don’t want to look like you just rolled out of bed or that you haven’t visited a barbershop or salon in months. The person with the potential to hire you could decide not to if your perfume or cologne is overwhelming, your hair looks dirty and scraggly and your clothes are wrinkled.
  4. Tugging at a skirt that’s too short or dealing with shoes that pinch your feet are distractions, and when you’re distracted, you’re not fully engaged in the interview. Plus, your discomfort could come across as nervousness. With proper fit, you’ll feel comfortable and look more confident.
Business woman interview

Job interview attire tips for women

Following are some ideas for women to consider as their go-to interview outfits. While a suit is always appropriate, mix-and-match separates have become acceptable, and they offer more flexible and affordable options as part of your career wardrobe:

  • A tailored dress in tasteful colors like muted blues or reds or a subtle pattern can be both appropriate and memorable, and you can add a neutral blazer or cardigan sweater for a stronger business office look. However, don’t wear a silky or flowery dress that would be better suited for a cocktail party or wedding.
  • If you prefer pants, black or navy dress pants worn with a classic button-down shirt and/or sweater can work well, especially if meeting with a recruiter, if it’s your first job or when you know the employer’s dress code is business casual.
  • Classic gray or navy blazer that can be paired with dress pants or a knee-length pencil skirt, which gives you more of a suited look, but again, with more flexibility.
  • As for accessories, keep jewelry, scarves and bags to a conservative and understated minimum—you don’t want to clank and jangle with every movement. Wear classic pumps in good condition and with comfortable, moderate heels. When it comes to moderation, that rule applies also to necklines and hemlines.

Job interview attire tips for men

The main concern men should have when dressing for an interview is going too far in either direction—wearing a suit that looks too formal for the position, or business casual that’s much too casual for an interview. Consider these:

  • A good-fitting, good-quality suit in a dark, neutral color like gray or navy, coordinated with shirt and tie to match will ensure you look and feel confident and serious about making a good impression. It’s nearly always appropriate for a man to wear a suit—especially if the position is a managerial level and you’re a “seasoned” hire. On the flip side, a suit would be inappropriate if you’re interviewing for a programming job at a tech start-up in Silicon Valley.
  • A classic blazer with a crisp, button-down shirt and dress pants—no tie—has become an appropriate substitute for a tailored suit. The key is that everything fits well, is clean and wrinkle-free and is neutral in colors, cut and style.
  • As for accessories, the same advice applies to both men and women: keep jewelry and bags or briefcases conservative and understated. Less is more. You may think you’re making a fashion statement, but a job interview is not the time or place. You want the interviewer to be focused on your skills and experience, not making personal judgments that could hurt your chances or cast you in an unfavorable light.

Casual dress codes apply only after you’re hired

In many work environments today, the dress code is business casual, and in some industries and locations, business casual has become just plain casual—jeans, t-shirts, gym shoes, sandals, shorts.

You should do your research on the organization before any interview, including the culture and dress code. Yet even for super-casual environments, dress-up a level for the interview. If you’ve been assured and reassured that everyone wears jeans and t-shirts to work all the time, wear some nice, dark jeans with a nice shirt and loafers or pumps to the interview.

Always look polished and professional for any interview—show that you put time into it because you care deeply about this opportunity. You want to give the employer the perception that you can be counted on—not only that you have the skills and capabilities they need, but that you have the judgment, confidence and good sense to always put your best foot forward.

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