They say “The clothes don’t make the man”, but does that also apply when you’re preparing for a job interview?
At the time of writing this article, several minor controversies were erupting in the media in regards to the way some public figures are dressing. For example, the media was abuzz about the clothing choices of MNA Catherine Dorion after she wore a simple black t-shirt to her job in Quebec’s national assembly. A few months earlier, it was Sofia Nolin who was the subject of discussion after she wore a Gerry Boulet t-shirt to the Québec Association for the Recording, Concert and Video Industries (ADISQ) gala, where most women wore fancy dresses.
Some people feel that the way someone chooses to dress should be a secondary concern when considering them for a job; that we should be more interested in the person’s character, rather than superficial aspects. Others feel that someone’s dressing habits represent a message that the person is sending to others. Of course, the clothes one chooses to wear can also reflect the event or environment they’re being worn in, and the people who are there.
Thinking about this in the context of recent news inspired me to tackle the question of how to dress for a job interview. It’s also a subject that job seekers regularly bring up to me.
Here are a few basic tips:
1- Consider the nature of the job you’re applying for and the company’s culture
The clothes that you wear to a job interview should more or less be identical to what you would wear on a typical workday at that company, if you got the job.
That being said, there is an exception for manual labor jobs. If you work in construction and wear worn clothing to work, you should still dress nicely for the interview. Avoid wearing jeans to the interview, even if you would normally wear them to work. Choose comfortable pants and a collared shirt if possible.
Don’t overdo it, either. There’s no need to show up wearing a suit and tie for an interview to be a warehouse worker.
If the requirements of the job say that you will be dealing with customers regularly, your choice of interview clothes will be different from what you would wear to an interview for a job where you would spend most of your time in the shadows. For public-facing jobs, how you choose to dress for the interview will be seen as part of your overall approach to the job.
The workplace culture is also an important aspect to consider when selecting your interview clothes. For example, if you’re applying for a position as Director of Operations, the clothes you wear to the interview will be slightly different depending on the company that is offering the job: a small tech startup offers a different cultural milieu than a century-old bank.
The best way to determine how to present yourself for a given job opportunity is to visit the company incognito in advance of your interview to get a sense of the culture there. You can also browse the company website or pictures of employees to get a sense of how people dress at work.
What values are they focused on? What image are they trying to project?
2- When in doubt, play it safe
At a party, you may want to wear something that makes you stand out and garner attention. But in a job interview, you don’t want your clothes to be the thing that an employer remembers about you, even if your clothes are high-class.
I’ve sat alongside directors of selection committees who, after a job candidate has left the interview, have commented how the person was wearing too much makeup, or remarked on their odd clothing choices.
I felt bad for these candidates, because the discussion about them after their interview focused on their choice of clothing, rather than their suitability for the position.
Knowing this, make it your primary goal to ensure that recruiters have nothing to talk about in regards to your clothing choices!
Similarly, don’t wear perfumes or colognes that put off a strong smell. Any makeup or jewelry should be worn discreetly.
If you’re applying for an office job, you can go for a jacket with a neutral color. Also think about how the jacket feels when you wear it; if you’re hot during the interview you may want to take it off.
For men, whether or not to wear a tie to an interview is a tricky question. Not wearing one, and discovering that everyone else is, may be a source of stress during an interview. On the other hand, I’ve had an employer tell me that they were put off when a candidate wore a tie to the interview; they found it a bit stilted, and it worked against the candidate.
3- Consider your outfit during remote interviews
Whenever I’ve been involved in in-person job interviews, I’ve found that in general, candidates make an effort to dress well.
But for similar interviews conducted remotely, using videoconferencing software, I’ve noted that candidates often neglect the dressing-up aspect completely.
During remote interviews, I’ve seen candidates wearing t-shirts or rumpled dress shirts; some have even worn baseball caps.
Personally, when I evaluate a candidate, I try not to be influenced by what they’re wearing. But not all evaluators feel the same way, so you dress shabbily at your own risk.
An interview is still an interview, regardless of whether it’s conducted remotely or not, and you should dress accordingly.
A person’s way of dressing should remain a secondary consideration during the selection process. This is why it’s good to address the subject now, so you can make sure it never comes up as an after-interview discussion between your evaluators.
One final tip: if you have to go to a job interview in winter, I suggest bringing along some shoes. Trucking into an office with big boots covered with snow isn’t a good look!