I have been asked to speak recently at several outplacement firms and to groups in transition on what to wear for interviews. The advice is different from even two years ago when I advised everyone to wear a suit, regardless of the everyday dress at the firm. This time around I am suggesting that a suit, (or skirt/pants with a jacket) be your default attire although business casual is sometimes acceptable or expected.
Regardless of the level of dress, keep things conservative. Focus on neutral colors such as navy, medium or dark gray, black, or brown. Add accent colors that flatter you like bright blue, red, yellow or lavender, or include one pattern. Focus on your grooming, and if anything, groom up if you are dressing casually. Keep your hair neat and your nails manicured (or trimmed). Have one focal point whether it’s a bright blouse, pendant, scarf or strong glasses. Shoes should be leather and closed toe. Stockings are optional, although they do add an extra professional touch.

It’s important to learn as much as you can about both the firm and the industry where you are looking to get hired. Check the company website and ask anyone you know who works there. The firm may tell you what dress is expected, in which case follow their suggestion. Or if you can, do a quick reconnaissance a few days before the interview. You want to see how formally people working there are dressed, and a few key things to note are:

  • Are they wearing jackets?
  • Are they wearing ties?
  • Are they wearing skirts, pants or dresses?
  • Anyone in jeans?

If you decide a suit is your best option, black, navy or other blue, and gray are the best conservative colors. Wear a brighter color or patterned blouse for contrast. For a slightly more casual look, a black pencil skirt, light colored blouse and dark or woven jacket will be perfect. If it’s a creative position add something unique or unusual, maybe a personal necklace, pin or singular looking jacket.

If you haven’t interviewed in a while you will most likely need to buy some new clothing. Get something tailored with a flattering cut and fit. For the winter, pay attention to your outerwear. A black or tan trench coat, or woven overcoat will help you make your best first impression.