You got the interview! After creating a polished resume and scouring job postings, you caught the hiring manager's eye and have been invited for a face-to-face meeting. As you study common interview questions and learn more about the company and position, you should also turn your attention to your professional interview wardrobe.
Looking your best shows employers that you're putting your best foot forward and are ready to become a responsible contributor and team member. A polished, professional outfit also helps you feel empowered and ready to show your potential employer that you can back up your credentials.
However, many college students have a limited professional wardrobe, and even more limited budgets. If you're wondering how to dress for an interview before you earn a paycheck, you're not alone.
1. Embrace the "business casual" trend
Long gone are the days of needing a fresh new suit for an interview. Businesses are sporting more casual dress codes, and today's interview attire reflects that. For most workplaces, a blazer and slacks or a skirt and blouse are perfectly acceptable. Chances are, you have at least one of these items in your wardrobe, or you can find them without spending too much.
Start by going through your wardrobe with a critical eye to determine which pieces do you already own that are currently interview-worthy. Some questions to ask yourself:
- Are the hems low enough and the necklines high enough?
- Do your pant cuffs brush the tops of your shoes and are your sleeves the right length?
- Are they free of stains, tears, or excessive wear?
- Do they make you feel comfortable and in control?
- Do they project the image you're intending?
Test out a few outfit options with a trusted friend (or an adult well into their career) to help you determine what is appropriate for the workplace. When it comes to our wardrobes, it's often hard to separate our personal preferences from professional appearances.
One more thing: not all industries have gone casual; fields like banking and law may still expect a suit and tie on interview day. Do a little research on your company and industry to confirm if a "business casual" outfit will be appropriate. Scope out the About Us or Careers sections of a company's website to see if there are candid photos of people in the workplace. These types of photos can serve as good indicators of what could work (and not work) in an interview setting.
2. Wear clothes that fit
When you were hanging out on campus, it didn't matter much if your pants were too big or your shirt was missing a button. In the working world, the rules are different. Your impeccable cover letter may have made a good first impression on the hiring manager, but a sloppy appearance will be tough to recover from.
If you have a few pieces that need repairs or a stitched hem, your local tailor may be able to help you get them back into shape for a reasonable charge. A talented tailor will be able to press your clothes as well as make simple repairs and add professional details such as cuffs or belt loops. Tailoring costs a fraction of what new clothing does and is available at most dry cleaners.
3. Look to sales and off-price options
Stores like The Gap, Banana Republic, J Crew, and Express carry solid and appropriate interview options. Join their rewards clubs, shop the sales, or visit their factory outlets to save your wallet. And off-price retailers like TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack and Saks Off Fifth can be gold mines for bargain shoppers. And online retailers like Amazon can also offer up high-quality options at discount prices.
4. Rent the interview
Clothing rental services aren't just for special occasions, and there are plenty of options out there for both men and women. Once you know your interview date, give yourself plenty of time to account for shipping, trying the items on and adding accessories. Some companies will let you order an extra size at no additional charge, just in case you need to go up or down a size.
5. Borrow from friends
You likely have friends who are also starting the interview process. Ask around and determine if you can share and borrow clothing, especially accessories and jackets. If you find a group of friends who is interested in sharing clothes, you can organize a clothing swap. Each person brings a few items to share and everyone gets something "new" for their interview without spending any money.
6. Thrift some treasures
You can head down to your local Goodwill to look for a new tie, or you can turn to one of the many online secondhand stores.
Sites like ThredUp, Poshmark and Tradesy let people buy and sell used clothing without ever leaving home. Not only does shopping online for secondhand clothing save you money, you save time by being able to sort by category, color and size quickly. Online shopping takes the guesswork out of thrifting.
7. Accessories make the outfit
While you can wear the same outfit for every interview you go on, you may want to change it up a little. Small details like a belt, necklace or cardigan can change the entire look of an outfit. If you invest in a few basic clothing items, you can then add inexpensive accessories to change the look of a basic wardrobe piece like a black dress.
8. Opt for versatility
When you're shopping for career and interview outfits, keep a few factors in mind:
- Care. If an article of clothing is dry-clean-only, cleaning it after each wear can get time-consuming and expensive. You may have to choose a couple of pieces that require dry cleaning but check tags before you buy to avoid surprises ― and so you don't ruin them by throwing them in the washing machine.
- Seasonality. It's also important to keep in mind where you live and how the seasons may change. If you live in New England, you may need different pieces for December than you will need for June. Buying all-season fabrics such as cotton will extend the life of your wardrobe.
- Comfort. Pick articles of clothing that make you feel confident and comfortable. You don't want to be fidgeting or distracted by your clothes while in your interview.
- Versatility. Look for clothing items that can be worn more than once in an interview process and can mix and match with other items for when you land that job. Spend more on these kinds of staples and less on things that are more trendy or memorable.
What you wear to your interview isn't the most important part of the day, but first impressions do matter. Also, having a great outfit can help you feel focused and confident. Take some time and set aside a small budget to find the right clothes and accessories.
Just as with your wardrobe, you need to make sure your applications materials look their absolute best. For step-by-step guidance with your resume, check out our Resume Builder. Also, review our Cover Letter Samples to find inspiration for your cover letter.