It is generally very important to dress soberly and conservatively for job interviews. This article will provide an outline of what is appropriate, assuming business attire is required.
Except in very casual work environments, interviewees will be expected to wear business suits, which have several traditional features that set them apart from casual and fashion forward styles. The safest material for an interview suit is a solid charcoal grey or navy blue worsted wool. Some patterns, such as pinstripes (the subtler the better), are also conservative enough to be worn safely. Lighter shades of grey are usually unremarkable enough to pass muster as long as they are not patterned, but they are not the safest option. Black suits are not traditional except for funerals, as black is generally reserved for more formal attire such as dinner jackets and tailcoats.
Cut and fit
Conservative suits do not follow current trends too closely and should not be extremely slim-fitting. It is inadvisable for the coat to have the excessive levels of shoulder padding or waist suppression that are employed to achieve an aggressive silhouette. A single-breasted coat with two or three buttons is the safe choice. Waistcoats, double breasted coats and one-button single breasted ones are perfectly classic and stylish, but probably not the best idea for an interview, whereas a single breasted coat with four or more buttons should never be worn at all. The trousers should also have a moderate cut and should not be too low-waisted. It is also important to keep in mind that an ill-fitting suit will make you stand out in a bad way, so here are some very basic ways to assess fit:
- You should be able to sit comfortably with the coat buttoned (the top button on a two button coat, and either the top and middle or just the middle on a three button coat - the bottom button is there for purely aesthetic reasons).
- The coat should be long enough at the back to cover the seat, but not significantly longer.
- The sleeves should end just above the wrist (and the shirt cuff should end just below the wrist, so that you show around .25" - .75" of cuff).
- The trousers should be long enough to touch your shoes at both the front and back when you stand straight, but not significantly longer, thus forming a clean vertical line (some prefer a "break" in the line at the bottom, but this needs to be done carefully as most people simply end up wearing trousers that are too long).
Conservative single breasted coats should always have step (notch in American English) lapels. Pointed or double-breasted style lapels (peak in American) are a dandyish choice and should really be reserved for social occasions rather than business. The hip pockets should both have flaps and no patches (patch pockets are a bit "country" whereas double-jetted pockets -normally found on dinner jackets- are too flashy and formal), and the breast pocket should be welted. A ticket pocket (a little pocket just above one of the normal hip pockets) might have been conservative at one time, but is another dandyish touch these days. The trousers can be pleated or flat-front, but in either case should not have turn-ups (another country detail, "cuffs" for Americans). You can choose to hold up your trousers with braces, but in that case make sure they are button-on ones in a subdued colour (your braces should never be seen in any case) and that the there are no belt loops. If the trousers are not cut for braces and have belt loops, you should wear a belt in black leather (to match your shoes).
The standard interview shirt is plain white cotton, with a moderately spread turndown collar and no breast pocket. It can have either button cuffs or double/ French cuffs (for cufflinks), but bear in mind that Americans tend to consider cufflinks flashy and reserved for higher-level people. Subdued, tasteful cufflinks will be fine if your interviewer is British or European. In a similar vein, a coloured (very light blue is the best choice, but never with a contrasting white collar) and/or patterned (thin stripes are the most conservative) shirt will probably not be a big problem for a British interviewer, but an American is likely to expect plain white. Button down collars are too casual for interviews, except perhaps if the interviewer is American, and under no circumstances should the shirt be in Oxford cloth.
The best interview shoes are well-polished black leather captoe Oxfords with leather soles. "Oxford" in this context refers to closed lacing, as opposed to a "Derby", which is an open laced shoe (Americans tend to use "Oxford" as a term for laced dress shoes in general, and call closed laced shoes "Balmorals" and open laced ones "Blüchers"). "Captoe" refers to a line (either a "punch cap" or a "stitch cap") across the toe of the shoe. The shoes should not have any broguing and should have either a round toe or a "chiselled" one, but never a square toe. Slip-ons were traditionally considered too casual to be worn with a business suit and should be avoided for interviews.
Accessories and outerwear
- A fairly sober, subdued tie is recommended, as the loud '80s power ties can be perceived negatively. Classic ties include the solid navy and navy/ black/ burgundy with white pin dots, but there are many other tasteful options. The knot should be neither extremely thick nor thin - a four-in-hand knot works best for thicker ties, whereas double four-in-hands and half-Windsors are recommended if the silk is thin. Make sure that the tie ends just above your trouser waistband (the top of the buckle if you are wearing a belt) and that the thin end does not show below the wide one.
- Your socks should match or complement your trousers. Long over-the-calf socks are recommended if you want to avoid accidentally showing your bare legs.
- If you have the confidence, you can wear a white linen handkerchief in a "TV" or "Presidential" fold, so that a sliver of white in a straight line will be visible above the breast pocket. This is completely optional and should be avoided if you have any doubts;
- If outerwear is required, a tailored woollen coat in black, navy or some shade of grey is the best option, although Mackintoshes and trench coats are also acceptable. Anything that is too short to cover your suit coat completely should be avoided, as should anything fastened by a zip. Gloves, if worn, should be in leather (black is usual, but there are no strict rules regarding colour as long as it is not garish). The only acceptable hats are traditional felt ones, such as homburgs, bowlers or snap-brims (fedoras/ trilbies), which should be taken off when indoors. If you would not be comfortable wearing a traditional hat, it is better to go without than to wear a completely unsuitable casual one.
Comments For University Undergraduate Interviews
- A suit is not (generally) required when you attend an interview.
- Avoid very casual clothes, such as hoodies, ripped jeans and trainers. You're most likely going to aim for 'Smart Casual' style dress.
- A good idea is a shirt and tie, with a plain-coloured pullover. This means you look smart, without being too formal.
- Don't wear your school blazer, no matter how prestigious it may be.
- Wear something that you feel comfortable in, but that is probably not your everyday dress. Something too uncomfortable/strange may distract you during the day, and you want to be as focussed as possible.