When preparing for an interview, whether it be for a job or for school, it is important to dress in proper attire. Something a little bit above business casual usually does the trick, but what exactly does that mean? Obviously, ripped jeans should never be worn to a formal interview and this applies to guys and girls, but what about polo shirts, thigh-length skirts, and six-inch heels? Is there a line that crosses into too much? If so, where is that line drawn? Well, I am going to try to set the record straight and give you my rules for dressing for an interview.
Please, please I beg of you, if you decide to wear a polo shirt, compensate with nicer dress pants and maybe even throw in a sport coat for good measure. Polo shirts walk the line between casual and business appropriate and while a lot of that depends on the look and fit of the shirt, much of the perception is aided by other items of clothing being worn. So this guy to the left would be dressed much more appropriately than if he were just wearing that polo shirt and some jeans.
Some things that always work for men dressing for an interview:
A well-fitted, seasonally-appropriate suit. This can be paired with a button-up shirt, conservative polo shirt, or sweater. Ties are optional depending on the seriousness of the interview. Shoes should be at least one step above casual sneakers; boat shoes are borderline appropriate. Oxfords, brogues, bucks, loafers, or wingtips are preferred.
A sport coat and dress pants. The fun thing about this combination is that the coat and slacks do not have to match! In fact, take this opportunity to let your personality shine through. Try a plaid sport coat and neutral slacks with a chambray shirt and fun bow tie if you are adventurous. If you’re more conservative, a navy jacket, white button-up shirt, and khaki pants are perfectly appropriate. Appropriate polo shirts, and sweaters are also options depending again, on the type of interview.
I want to make clear, though, that business casual is NOT the same as interview attire! For one, you have not succeeded in getting the job, gaining admission to the school, or whatever goal you hope to gain from this interview! It is also a sign of respect to the interviewer that you made an effort when dressing yourself in addition to showing maturity. Jeans and a polo shirt is not an option, guys!
Suits are a wonderful option! They do not have to be masculine, ill-fitting, or frumpy old-maid-vibe-giving. The tailor is your friend, just as buying a more expensive well-fitting suit is worth your while. If suits are not your thing, don’t worry!
Options that work for women besides a suit:
A cocktail-length dress. I am not talking about a floor-length evening gown, nor am I talking about a sundress from H&M. Keep in mind that cocktail-length implies lower than mid-thigh. A great place to buy one is Ann Taylor. Pair it with some fun personality-revealing pumps and you’re ready to go!
Work-appropriate skirt with blouse and jacket/cardigan ensemble. No jean mini-skirts, please. Pencil skirts, A-line skirts, and circle skirts in neutral colors and materials are always a safe, stylish bet. Throw in a silky blouse or cotton button-up and you have a great alternative to the structured suit. The same goes for neutral dress pants in wool, twill, herringbone, tweed, etc. Just please, no jeans.
The important thing to remember is when in doubt, dress up! You only have one shot to present the image you want to a potential employer, or alumni interviewer. Believe me, they will have more respect for someone who appears overdressed than not. Although you may feel silly sitting there in a three-piece suit while your interviewer is lounging in loafers, jeans, and a stained oxfordcloth shirt, he or she will notice your effort and more than likely respect you for it.