When it comes to making an impression and gaining admiration from your peers, having substance, empathy and strong leadership and communication skills beat “physical appearance” any day of the week (and so it should!). However, the reality is that when it comes to interviews, physical appearance probably reaches the same level of importance as these other more critical elements. Why is this? The answer is quite simple. An interview only gives the interviewer a glimpse into the person who they are meeting. We are evaluating someone´s ability to successfully perform a job, create a great work environment and be a fantastic brand ambassador in front of clients in approximately an hour (give or take). As a result, your interviewer will cling on to any piece of evidence they have in front of them which will help them make the right evaluation and decision. And this includes how a candidate presents themselves both in terms of communication and appearance. In addition to this, a prospective employer will also be evaluating your "corporate fit" and again, a part of this evaluation will be based on whether they can see you blending in with the rest of the teams and representing the business in front of clients. Leaving any judgements aside as to whether this should be evaluated exclusively on a personality and work style basis, the reality is that both your personality and the way you present yourself will be under evaluation. It is therefore crucial not to underestimate the importance of dress code in an interview.
Unfortunately there is not a universal answer to the question of what to wear to an interview as it vastly depends on the company that you are interviewing with. There are obviously common denominators that we should follow regardless of the company, such as ensuring that we have a clean, polished, well-groomed and highly presentable appearance with flattering and well presented garments. Other than this, the dress code will greatly depend on the corporate culture of the business. In most companies within more traditional/corporate sectors such as banking or legal, wearing a suit to an interview might be a must. However, wearing a suit to an interview with a dynamic, young, cool fashion brand or a tech start-up could be detrimental as your interviewer could fear that you don´t understand the nature of the business and might see you as too "corporate". Going back to my point on the time constraints within an interview process, the reality is that your interviewer will rely on any possible cues to understand whether the candidate is the right corporate fit.
So, how do we play it safe and make sure that we are giving the best impression in our search for the right outfit? Going back to our main question "What should I wear for an interview?"
Firstly, rely on your network. If you have friends who work in the organisation that you are interviewing with or even in the sector if it is a sector that you are not that familiar with, ask them for advice. If you are going through a headhunter, maximise your recruiter´s knowledge and ask them about the dress code. I sometimes have candidates showing me by video call different outfits to get my advice. Don´t be shy in asking these questions, as I can guarantee that the same person that you are asking the question to, has been in exactly the same dilemma the first time that they met with that specific company (or any other business for that matter).
One very simple yet not often used wonderful tool to use is to conduct a search on Linkedin for the employees working for the business that you are interviewing with and see what they are wearing. This tends to be a fantastic indication of the dress code within the organisation. If possible, look at profiles of employees who are at a similar seniority level and functional area as sometimes there can be some differences even within the same business.
Last but not least, whilst I strongly advise to tailor your interview outfit to the company that you are interviewing with, it´s also very important to always maintain part of who you are in your attire. One, because you also want the business that you are considering as a future employer to accept you for who you are, and two, because you must feel comfortable with what you are wearing in order to perform your best!
If you need additional support during your interview process, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org in order to book a session.