How to Look Right For The Job Through These Simple Tweaks
If your last formal job interview was 10 years ago or more, the advice for interview dressing has changed. The main shift has been away from the perceived necessity to wear a formal, matched suit. There may be occasions where this is necessary, but it is no longer the default option.
What you do want to be is smart, professional, and appropriately dressed for the prospective company and job role.
Top Tips for successful interview dressing
- When interviewers look at you, they want to see someone who has taken time and care over their appearance (there is a subconscious belief that if you have taken time & care over your appearance, then you will take time and care over your work.) Therefore, think about your grooming. Simple, basic things – wash your hair & your body, smell sweet but not overpowering. Women wear some make-up – enough to enhance your features. Ensure your clothes are neat and tidy with no stains and your shirt is ironed!
- Do some research beforehand – what is the company dress code? This may be listed on the website or look at the clothes that staff members are wearing in photos. Otherwise ask your recruiter. This will give you an idea of the level you need to dress at.
- “Business Casual” can mean different things in different organisations. But avoid anything too short, too revealing or too tight.
- Always err on the side of caution and dress up rather than down – it is easier to remove a jacket than magic one up!
- Accessorise to make your outfit interesting. Adding a necklace, tie, scarf, watch, bag, or smart shoes can lift a simple outfit.
To help you navigate this minefield – here is a guide to the 4 levels of dress code. The first 3 would be appropriate in most interview situations
Level One – Formal, Suited & Booted
This is where you would find the matched suit. The darker the suit the more formal, especially if worn with a white or light-coloured plain shirt/blouse, and possibly with a tie.
To make this less formal, men can remove the tie and wear a coloured or patterned shirt (stripe or check). This looks much better than an open necked white shirt with a suit. For women, add pattern &/or colour to your top.
Level Two – Business Casual
Adding a different coloured or textured jacket / blazer to a pair of smart trousers, dark jeans, a skirt, or a dress would be appropriate for most interview situations.
The jacket and tailoring demonstrate professionalism but aren’t as stuffy as a matched suit. If you do remove your jacket during the interview, ensure that you are wearing a top with sleeves underneath, because keeping your arms covered maintains a professional look.
Level Three – Smart Casual
This is the level you could drop down to if you remove your jacket. There is still some tailoring and some interest around the face such as a shirt collar or interesting necklace. Arms are still covered but sleeves could be shorter. NB In business, men should avoid formal, short sleeved shirts as it has a whiff of naughty schoolboy!
All these 3 levels would include a good grooming and closed in shoes such as court shoes, loafers, brogues, or boots.
Level Four – Casual
This level isn’t really appropriate for most interview (or work!) situations. There is no structure to the garments and would include items such as: t-shirts, light/ripped jeans, trainers, flip flops, shorts, vest tops.
Online interview dressing
More and more interviews are now being held online so it is important to consider how this will affect your appearance and presentation, as it is all focussed on a small rectangle.
As it is unlikely that the interviewer will see your bottom half you may think that it would be fine to wear shorts or sweatpants with your smart top / jacket…. However, I would advise getting “dressed” for the interview, as this puts you in a better mindset. One of my clients wore her “kick ass” heels during her interview, as this gave her extra confidence, even though she was sat down throughout!
Wear flattering colours and accessories near your face. However, avoid shiny fabrics, loud patterns, gingham checks and red, as these all pixelate or look strange on camera.
From a presentation point of view ensure you look at the camera when you are speaking and not at the person on the screen. If this is challenging stick a post it note, next to the camera lens to remind you. Ensure that your lighting is good – if possible, face a window so that the light falls evenly on your face.
Also check the background – you do not want your prospective employer seeing piles of washing or dirty dishes behind you. And ensure that the camera is at the right height – at about your eye level.
Practice all these elements beforehand, so you know the best set up for your environment.
In answer to some common questions …
What does “informal interview” mean? Should I dress up for this?
In “normal” times an informal interview would take place outside the office in a casual setting, such as over lunch or coffee. It is designed to be less structured than a formal interview and offers both parties the opportunity to see if they would be a good fit before progressing further. I would dress at a minimum of Level 3 in this situation. Currently an informal interview might indicate an online or telephone conversation.
Does anyone wear suits anymore?
In certain professions like banking, finance, or law yes suits are still the norm, although they might be slightly more relaxed in terms of colour and pattern. Research is key here – check out the company dress code beforehand. If in doubt you could opt for the less formal options in Level 1.
I feel fat and dumpy (especially after lockdown), what can I wear that feels smart but also covers everything?
For women I would consider a sleeved dress in a dark neutral that “skims not clings”. Dark neutrals include, navy, grey, brown, rust, burgundy, and black. Head to toe black isn’t always considered the best option for interviews because from a colour psychology point of view, it can create a barrier. You could add a pop of colour with your accessories. Alternatively, choose a dark neutral “core” of a top and trousers and then add a long line jacket or kimono style loose wrap. Keep your shoes in the same deep neutral and this will have the effect of lengthening your legs!
For men, ensure that your shirt fits, with no gaping buttons, if necessary, invest in a bigger collar size, especially if you are wearing a tie.
Are there any colours that are a no no?
As I said earlier – I would avoid black as well as a lot of red – this colour doesn’t work well on screen and in real life too much red could be seen as aggressive rather than assertive.
Can I get away with something like trousers and a jacket?
Absolutely! This is perfect Level 2.
If they say casual how casual can you go?
I would stick to a minimum of Level 3
Should I be wearing make-up and if, so how much?
Yes! Depending on the job role and how groomed you would be expected to be, might suggest the amount you would need to wear. As a bare minimum I would wear tinted moisturiser, blusher, eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick/lip gloss. If you aren’t sure what suits you, book a colour analysis session or ask for advice at a make-up counter. There was some research done a few years ago that discovered – women who wear make-up earn 23% more than those that don’t!
The interview is your chance to demonstrate who you are, your personality and your qualifications. Employers are looking for candidates who will fit into their organisations. As humans we do make decisions about people based on how they present themselves, so first impressions really do count.
All clothes from a selection at https://www.next.co.uk/
Gail Morgan is a Style Consultant and Image Expert with over 28 years’ experience. Her mission is to simplify the art of getting dressed so that you enjoy wearing clothes that flatter your body, support your lifestyle, and boost your confidence.
She has extensive retail and personal shopping experience and specialises in working with busy professionals and business owners who need to improve their visibility. Gail loves seeing her clients blossom and their confidence soar, once they understand the colours and styles of clothes that really suit them. If you would like to discover the colours that suit you, Gail offers online colour analysis consultations.
We can help you prepare for your interview. Contact us to find out more.