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What not to wear... to an interview.

Frank Hutton
Frank Hutton - Career Coach

There is an incredible amount of advice online about this subject, so I have tried to distil 5 simple principles which will help you whether you earn £12,000 or £120,000 per annum or you’re an artist or a banker. I am assuming that with the improvements in the job market you may well find at least one of these 5 points useful very soon! 

OK, for anyone that knows me well, finding me commenting on anyone’s sartorial elegance may seem a little out of character. Gok Wan can breathe easy. This is nothing to do what you look good in, and everything to do with making sure your appearance doesn’t let you down on the day. You get one chance to impress. These tips will ensure your dress-sense doesn’t get in the way of that.

1. Don’t wear something that doesn’t match the culture of the organisation at which you’re interviewing

Do your research and make you turn up looking like you could be one of them. So if no-one wears a tie, DON’T wear a tie. But do wear some decent trousers and a good shirt (the addition of a jacket may be decided by looking at them). And if they all wear ripped jeans, then avoid your nice shiny suit-type trousers.

The quickest ways to check are: Company website - look at what people are wearing in their Who’s Who type photo; Look at them on LinkedIn (always good to try and link up prior to a meeting) or just Google the person you’re meeting and see what they look like generally. You could also (if it’s not too far to go) either pop into their reception to request something e.g. a company brochure or hang about outside at closing time to see what people are wearing.

Rule of thumb is always go just a little smarter than the norm. Just so they know you’re bothered and want the job.

2. Don’t wear something you don’t feel comfortable in

Much of your personal presence is delivered not by what you’re wearing, but how you feel when wearing it. Make sure it’s something you feel good in, and comfortable too. Not overly restrictive; something in which you can move naturally and breathe easily. This will avoid you reacting negatively to your clothes which may well be communicated by negative body language on your part. Your interviewer probably won’t even register it consciously, but it could affect things at the final cut, when they may just ‘feel’ more comfortable with another interviewee.

3. Don’t forget the parts of your body not covered up by clothes

Your hair (including facial!), face, hands, fingernails and any make up shouldn’t be a cause for concern either: Hair should be appropriate again to your environment (controlled in disciplined and regulated worlds or maybe relaxed in more creative or free-flowing environments), dirty fingernails should be avoided - it’s all too easy to be catching up on the decorating when you’re between jobs and you end up with paint and all kinds of other substances under your nails which are a nightmare to remove: so don’t let it happen. Use gloves!  You never know when the call might come for a meeting. Be prepared.

If you are wearing any make up (ladies or gentlemen) or have any other adornments don’t let them detract from the real you. Your eyes (and brows), mouth and even your ears are key communication tools. If your eye shadow, lip gloss or dangly earrings distract from positive body language signals you might otherwise give, an interviewer may feel disconnected or distracted by them, remembering the shade more than your ability

4. Don’t forget to wear shoes you can actually walk in

Body language is massively important as already stated. If you come in walking awkwardly or limping (having walked from the station) it will create a negative image. So chose the ‘right’ shoes. There’s nothing wrong with heels, if you love them and can walk in your chosen version. Men, wear shoes that help you walk easily too. Some flat pump-like trainers take all the spring out of your step and could make you appear lifeless or lack energy.

5. Don’t try too hard to impress

When at Interview, think Goldilocks. Always go for somewhere in the middle when making a choice - not too loud, too dull, too bright, too short, too long, too smart, too shabby, too loud. If you find it hard to make that kind of judgment find a friend who doesn’t. They’ll love helping out. And it could be fun! Lay off the aftershave or perfume as well; everyone's tastes vary enormously so don't be tempted! 

As always, some of these tips may fight against each other slightly in your case, so there is always a need for compromise and common sense. It’s all about first impressions.

And if you’re feeling perhaps a bit short on the right kinds of clothing, perhaps be bold and ask a friend if you can borrow some.  Don’t be shy.

And finally, I would love to hear any good stories about your interview experiences, especially about what your interviewer was wearing for instance!


Looking for a Career Coach in Bristol, Bath, the south west or beyond? Call us on 0117 299 3035.

By Frank Hutton