If you can only dedicate X amount of hours into preparing for your interview, 99% of your time should be preparing for your answers. Looking better than other candidates isn’t going to really play a factor, truthfully.
Let me preface by saying my perspective comes as a hiring manager that isn’t based on fashion or appearances. So if you’re applying for a job in the fashion industry, marketing, presentations, or anything like this, then this post doesn’t apply to you. This post is meant for people who are applying for most standard behind-the-desk jobs.
EDIT: As others have pointed out, this isn’t an all-encompassing post that will cover every interview. Every industry is different, and every company within shared industries are different. How you should look for a government job will be drastically different than a small startup, which is different from a law firm. To top things off, the position level also changes how important your look is. I’m simply catering this post to the numerous posts I’ve seen: entry to mid level jobs in areas that typically don’t have stricter attire standards.
For what it’s worth, I work in the software industry. Most of the candidates I interview & hire are fresh out of college, or have graduated 1 or 2 years prior to their interview. As a result, I interview for internships and entry-level positions.
WHAT TO WEAR
To put it simply, all you need to do is to try to look professional. That’s it. Everything else is pretty much unnecessary. Dressing very nice won’t help you that much. Dressing poorly, on the other hand, CAN hurt you. To put it in gaming-numerics, dressing nice, at best, will give you a +2; dressing poorly can hurt you by -15. The only time we notice what you wear is if it’s too distracting
From the company’s perspective, they’re just looking for someone who can do the job, and if they can work in team to do said job. What you wear and how you look provides almost no indication of your ability to do these things.
So what does dressing professional mean?
For actual attire: Feel free to call the secretary and ask what most people wear around the office. If no one wears a suit ever, then it might be overkill. For most professional positions (human resources, finance, management, high-clerical, education, sales) you’ll want a suit. Some positions will require a simple button-up and dress trousers or chinos (medium-to-low level clerical work, some construction or other labor, some manufacturing, some transportation services, some food services or retail).
For a suit, you want a 2-button charcoal or navy suit, with either dark brown or black shoes (preferably balmorals). A maroon, navy, or gold tie is fine. Feel free to get a simple stripe tie. Don’t get any ties with more than 3 colors. A white, point-collar shirt is the standard. No french cuffs or other adornments, keep jewelry to a minimum. Socks should match the trousers. That’s basically it.
For positions that don’t expect suits, most of the time you are fine with a white or light blue button-up (perhaps even an OCBD) tucked into dress trousers (charcoal, medium grey) or chinos (khaki). You can get away with black or brown loafers, but oxfords are a better choice (bluchers are fine with chinos). Feel free to throw on a blazer (grey or navy) if you want to sharpen up a touch. Again, socks match trousers. Below that, feel free to just go polo and chinos with loafers. For anything below that, use your discretion. Keep in mind that minimal is better. Wear what makes you comfortable in your interview.
Doesn’t dressing nicely show an attention to detail?
Of course. But when it comes to interviews, there are far better indicators. The thing with dressing nice is that you can prepare “easily” by getting advice from others. Any decent interviewer will have questions prepared to show how much attention to detail you really have, especially the type that’s relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Doesn’t dressing nicely give a strong first impression?
Yes and no. It gives a negative impression, if you dress VERY poorly. Not so much if you dress nicely. There’s a process to selecting interview candidates. We don’t just interview anyone who applies – that would be a waste of a lot of time. To filter candidates, we have to look at resumes & transcripts, plus ask pre-interview questionnaires. Those are our first impressions. We’re far more interested in what you have to say than how you look.
Can I wear black?
Most candidates wear black. Like I said, most candidates I hire are really young, and didn’t pay attention to their suits. Those that don’t know any better (myself included) often go with black.
What if my suit doesn’t fit as nicely?
Again, just as long as it’s close enough. We don’t expect perfectly tailored suits. We know for some candidates having a great suit isn’t your top priority. For the job at hand, it isn’t relevant. Just make sure you’re trying. Like we said, fit is only relevant if the what you’re wearing is noticeably large or noticeably small. It’s at that point we start to wonder “Why didn’t they get a better fitting suit? They can at least put a little more effort into it.”
Again, if it looks professional, then you’ve done everything you’ve needed to do. Dedicating more time than necessary on how you look is a waste of time. The biggest general advice I can give on landing the job you’re applying for is to check out a book called “Knock ’em Dead” by Martin Yates. I literally credit that book for getting the job I have now. Putting a couple of hours into that book will reap SIGNIFICANTLY more rewards than putting those hours into how you look.
NOTE: I’d also like to mention that suit recommendations for an interview is very different from getting a suit for all occasions and using it for an interview. This post applies to the former. If you’re doing the latter, then mentioning it’s going to be used for an interview is most likely irrelevant. If it looks good for most occasions, then it’ll definitely be good for an interview.
TL;DR: Try to dress professionally, and err on the side of cautious and conservative. All you have to do is look “good enough”. Dressing nice won’t really help you to much, but dressing poorly can hurt you. Interviewers care far more about what you say than how you look.
EDIT: The advice I provide is based on the idea that you’re expected to wear some sort of business attire to the interview. There are lots of interviews that don’t have an attire requirement, and that you’re free to wear what you please. I think we can all agree that the best play is to simply ask them what you’re expected to wear.