Once your resume gets your foot in the door, the next step is preparing for the interview. A key element to interview success is choosing appropriate clothing.
In the past, suitable interview attire for women was traditionally limited to a choice between pantsuits or skirts, but with more women holding lead positions in business and an overall push for an equal playing field between genders, this perspective has become outdated and women have many more options available to them.
This doesn't mean that the pantsuit versus skirt debate is obsolete though, as there are still many industries that subscribe to traditional standards regarding interview clothes for women. So, as a woman preparing for an interview, what should you wear?
Interview Attire for Women: Pantsuits vs. Skirts
These days, interview attire is largely dictated by industry and company culture.
For instance, a skirt or a pantsuit would be anathema to a tech start-up in Silicon Valley where the CEO arrives in jeans and a hoodie on a daily basis. On the other hand, a large corporate financial firm would frown on anything so informal, and a fashion house would have its own set of outside-the-box expectations.
Needless to say, there are still some cases when the question of pantsuits or skirts is relevant when choosing interview clothes for women. If you are preparing for an interview with a company in a conservative industry or you will be meeting with someone from older generations, traditional expectations may still be at play. In this case, skirts are almost always the safest option, but it can help to prepare by visiting the company's website or social media pages before the interview to get an idea of the company standard.
If wearing a skirt makes you feel uncomfortable, a pantsuit is a good alternative. During the interview, attire for women can have an impact on confidence. Choosing a pantsuit lets you maintain a traditional professional appearance without sacrificing your comfort level, which can reduce anxiety and help you focus on the interview.
Business Casual Interview Attire for Women
If you choose to wear a skirt or pantsuit, you can update the look with a button up shirt in a fun color. Stick to lighter shades and make sure the color you choose is complementary to the rest of your appearance. Bold patterns look great under suit jackets, but avoid anything too bold like animal prints. You can also try different fabrics, such as silk, to add some texture.
If you're interviewing at a less conservative company or one that values creativity, a statement dress paired with a complementary blazer or a pair of slacks with a styled blouse can give your look a professional, but interesting touch. A blouse or button-up shirt under a V-neck sweater looks great with dress pants or a skirt. Remember to always wear pantyhose or tights with your skirt or dress, and make sure the length is professional.
Spend some time choosing your accessories as well. If you want to wear heels, keep them on the shorter side and make sure they're comfortable. Jewelry can add some color to an otherwise neutral ensemble, but keep it moderate and avoid anything that makes too much noise. Stay away from accessories that are overly shiny or flashy.
Interview Clothing Dos and Don'ts
Interview clothes for women aren't limited to pantsuits or skirts, but there are still some standard rules to keep in mind.
- Do consider your industry. Interviewing for a position in the fashion industry will require a different look from what is expected on Wall Street.
- Do wear what makes you comfortable so you're not distracted during the interview.
- Don't dress too casually. Your clothes should be a reflection of your professionalism. Jeans and shorts are almost never appropriate.
- Do pay attention to detail. Make sure the outfit you choose is free of loose threads and missing buttons and that your shoes and accessories appear well kept.
- Don't be afraid to play with color. It can flatter your appearance and increase your confidence.
- Don't wear flashy clothing or accessories. Your clothes add to the first impression, but they shouldn't dominate it. Don't wear anything that will distract the interviewer from your responses.
- Do take the time to plan your outfit in advance. You don't want to throw something together the day of the interview, and you do want to make sure you prepare a backup option.
Choosing an appropriate outfit is a crucial part of interview preparation and should be given careful consideration. Interview attire for women has come a long way, but the basic dos and don'ts are the same. Whatever you decide to wear, remember that you are there to showcase your qualifications so make sure your choice won't be distracting to you or the interviewer. The best outfit for an interview is one that is comfortable, is professional, and gives you confidence.
Be sure to also read our article, When Job-Hunting: Dress for Success. Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms and by reading our piece on how to write a resume.