Interview Success Secrets: How to Project Confidence With the Right Attire

Business.com / Careers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

What you wear to your next job interview is critical. Learn how to nail your next interview look and master tricky business casual.

Do appearances really matter? When it comes to your next job interview, the answer is a resounding, “Yes.” 

First impressions are usually formed in 7 seconds or less. Your choice in attire makes a major statement about yourself before you even have the chance to smile, say hello or shake hands.

As if prepping for an interview isn’t stressful enough, choosing a winning interview outfit can be just as challenging.

Even if the interview accepts business casual attire, dress too informally and interviewers may (incorrectly) assume you have an equally casual attitude toward work and authority.

Related Article: Hiring Sales Staff? 15 Must-Ask Interview Questions

Show up in a full suit to a startup where everyone’s wearing jeans and flannel, however, and the opposite is true: the team may worry you don’t fully understand the company’s culture.

Worse, wear something that you don't feel comfortable in (even if the outfit itself is appropriate), and your discomfort with your attire may come across as a lack of confidence during your interview answers.

You customize your resume for a specific job. You rehearse interview questions in advance. You also need to target your look to the job for which you’re applying. The right attire will boost your confidence and help you land your dream job:

Avoid a Business Casual Disaster

Interviewing at a major Fortune 500 company? It’s an absolute given you’ll need to wear a suit and tie to the first round.

But for more casual work environments, nailing the right look can be a challenge. A relaxed dress code is a double-edged sword: it’s certainly more comfortable than a suit, but don’t go overboard and get too expressive with your personality and style.

Unless you know for certain everyone in the office lives in jeans and t-shirts every day, play it safe with business casual attire on your first interview.

For men, memorize this mantra: casual doesn’t mean loose. Pair a tailored jacket with slim-cut pants for a professional silhouette.

For women, professional stylists recommend a dark skirt or pants with a crisp blouse and polished pumps or boots that are weather appropriate. A shift dress with a cardigan or blazer is also a safe option.

Related Article: Help Is On the Way: How to Save a Bad Job Interview

Second Round Attire Can Be More Casual but Maintain a Professional Look

When you’re invited back for a second round, it’s okay to dress more casually. However, it’s still smart to dress a notch or two up from the most casual people in the office.

For a jean- and-t-shirts startup, this means a dark pair of jeans and a collared shirt or sweater for men, and dark jeans, a silk blouse and ballet flats for women. 

Plan Your Look in Advance

Don’t wait until the morning of the big interview to decide what to wear. Boost your confidence by planning what to wear in advance and, most importantly, making sure it fits.

Basic grooming in advance is also essential. For men, this includes being cleanly shaven or a trimmed beard and clean, trimmed nails. 

For women, basic grooming includes a neat, recently trimmed hairstyle that’s low-maintenance and won’t require any touching, smoothing or emergency bobby pins once you leave the house.

Opt for whatever look helps you feel most confident and won’t tempt you to twist or play with your hair during the interview.

Finally, consider how you will you be getting to your interview. If it’s the middle of the summer in New York City and you’re planning to take the subway and then walk five long blocks, splurge on an Uber so your professional look doesn’t morph into a frizzy disaster.

Related Article: Interviews & First Dates: The Tools You Need to Get to #2

Bottom Line

With the explosion of business casual dress codes, nailing the right interview outfit can be a challenge for both men and women.

For the first interview, always aim to slightly overdress. After all, you don’t know if the hiring manager will have had another meeting earlier in the day that required a suit and tie. Showing up in jeans could place you at an immediate disadvantage.

For the second round, it’s okay to be a bit more casual, assuming your look is still aligned with the workplace culture.

When you are confident with your appearance, this confidence will radiate throughout your interview. You’ll stand a bit taller, have a firmer handshake, feel comfortable maintaining eye contact, and nail that first seven-second impression.

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