A job interview is one of the single most terrifying experiences the modern man can go through – often because it means so much: more money, a better job, increased career potential, the ability to pay your way or something that finally gets you out of unemployment.
And on top of this, it is also an absolute sartorial minefield.
As far as I can tell, there are two main reasons why men find it so difficult to dress for an interview. The first is that the job market has diversified beyond recognition; each industry now requires a different approach, whilst the description of many industries has changed completely. It’s no longer a case of waking up in the morning, pulling on your suit and stepping out the door – it’s a lot more complicated than that.
The second and perhaps most damning reason is our own developed interest in how we look. The modern man takes a lot more pride in his appearance, and the way we dress has become something of a competition. Being well dressed is no longer restricted to a select few, so we are constantly driving each other to become better dressed – in turn, this changes the rules on how we SHOULD dress.
To help you make an informed decision on what to wear to your upcoming interview, we’ve put together a few tips for a number of different scenarios that will have you feeling comfortable and confident as you step in the room; what then comes out of your mouth is entirely down to you.
When it comes to interview attire, the suit is king. In the corporate/business world, wearing a suit is standard practice across the board, so wearing one to your interview is the obvious choice: it shows you understand your situation and that you respect your potential employer. Plus, a man will never look better than he does in a well-tailored suit, fact.
If ever in doubt, wear a suit.
Putting together a formal ensemble is relatively straight forward. Stick to classic navy or grey and you can’t go wrong. Avoid black for business – the stark hue should only be seen at night or at black tie events/funerals – navy and grey are far more versatile and a lot more forgiving.
I’m sure some people will argue that this is far too safe, but I personally think the worst thing you can do at an interview is come across as arrogant. Wearing something that makes too much of a statement suggests that you completely misunderstand the aforementioned corporate situation.
For instance, a bold window pane check might look fantastic at your mate’s wedding, but in the interview room you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. It is for this reason that I would also suggest avoiding double-breasted cuts and three-pieces.
The Finer Details
However, don’t be afraid to set yourself apart from the other candidates by taking into account the finer details. Needless to say, make sure your suit fits like a glove – yes, that means getting a few alterations done – and consider looking for a suit that incorporates a bit of texture or a subtle pattern. Alternatively, you could try a slightly richer colour like French blue.
Things like peak lapels, slanted pockets, single button jackets, trousers with half or no break, bold socks, fantastic shoes and pocket squares (if appropriate and in a classic, professional fold) can also help individualise your look. Whisper about being well dressed, don’t shout about it.
As with the suit, be sensible with your shirt and tie combination. Plain white, blue and pink dress shirts offer you a solid, timeless base that allows you to play around with the pattern and colour of the tie.
Alternatively, think about gingham and striped shirts for something a little different, but remember the golden rule of pattern mixing: never more than two patterns in any one outfit, and vary the size of each pattern to avoid them clashing.
For example, why not try a navy suit, blue gingham check shirt and a mustard/yellow tie combination? Or a fine stripe blue shirt with a navy polka dot tie? Both of these are bold yet refined, with just enough statement to separate you from the rest.
- He By Mango Slim-fit Basilia Suit
- Esprit Skinny Fit Suit With Fleck Black Grey
- He By Mango Wool Paulo Suit
- Reiss Youngs Peak Lapel Tailored Suit Navy
- Reiss Baker One Button Peak Lapel Suit Airforce Blue
- Topman Navy Slim Textured Suit
- He By Mango Slim-fit Premium Herringbone Cotton Shirt
- Uniqlo Men Super Non Iron Long Sleeve Shirt+
- He By Mango Slim-fit Premium Striped Twill Shirt
- Topman Navy Wool Mix 5cm Tie
- Michael Bastian Prince Of Wales Check Wool Tie
- Reiss Icarus Plain Silk Pocket Square White
- Allsaints Conduct Shoe
- Dune Leather Brogues
- He By Mango Leather Oxford Shoes
It is important to realise that not all interviews are the same. There are times when a suit ISN’T your best option. For example, the interview process for a tradesman is most likely going to be a less formal affair.
Of course, in most building trades interviews either don’t exist or are based more on your abilities and reputation, rather than your ability to perform some ridiculous role play. But when it comes to engineers, plumbers, electricians or anyone applying to work for a bigger company, an interview will still be part of the process.
Unfortunately, your standard work attire just isn’t going to cut it. Yet whilst you don’t need to get all dolled up in your best suit, it is still extremely important to show that you understand the significance of the interview process and have respect for the interviewers by making an effort.
In this instance, I would avoid the suit. Dressing well needs to be balanced with the environment you will be working in, so you will probably find a suit is over doing things.
Instead, make use of your suit trousers, or any other pair of tailored trousers, by combining them with a dress shirt and some clean, smart shoes. By doing this you’ve created yourself a well structured, formal outfit that shows the necessary respect AND represents your own interest in style, without being overdressed.
If it’s cold or you feel the outfit needs it, throw on a fine gauge knit. Merino wool crew or v-neck jumpers are fantastic for this and if your trousers and shirt are classic and restrained then you can opt for something in a bolder colour.
You might also consider putting on a textured tie for some extra detailing, but it’s by no means essential.
- Uniqlo Men Easy Care Oxford Long Sleeve Shirt
- Hackett Pink Cotton-poplin Shirt
- He By Mango Slim-fit Pocket Oxford Shirt
- Asos Merino Crew Neck Jumper
- American Apparel V-neck Pullover
- Allsaints Elba Cashmere Cardigan
- He By Mango V-neck Cashmere Sweater
- Reiss Jude Mercerised Cotton V-neck Jumper Blue
- J.crew Crew Neck Cashmere Sweater
- He By Mango Straight-fit Wool-blend Herringbone Trousers
- Reiss Castle Brushed Oxford Trousers Grey
- Allsaints Montreal Trouser
The Creative Type
When it comes to an interview in the creative industries, you get a lot more room for freedom of expression. Exactly what constitutes a creative industry is open to interpretation, but think designers, graphic arts and, at a push, modern marketing and advertising agencies.
As with the tradesman interview, suits aren’t necessarily going to be your first port of call – they are generally too stuffy. The creative industry is, as the name suggests, far more creative than the corporate world so it’s the perfect opportunity to show off more of your personality through the way you dress.
In fact, it will often be encouraged – it shows you are original/inventive/artistic/innovative and no one wants to come across as boring, or an accountant that has wandered into the wrong building.
That being said, smarter looks are still the order of the day. For those that really want to wear a suit, opt for an unstructured or bold coloured version and dress it down some by losing the tie, throwing on a heavyweight shirt/Henley and switching your Oxfords for desert boots/loafers. There’s a lot you can do with a suit, without it actually looking like you are wearing a suit.
Playing with textures and aesthetics via separates is a great way to create appropriate smart-casual looks that have a real sense of depth and individuality. For instance, combine a pair of chinos/lightly structured trousers with a denim shirt, textured tie and unstructured blazer for an ensemble that strikes just the right balance between formal and casual – showing respect for your interviewer and letting your interest in clothes shine through.
The key is to show off your imaginative side without coming across as try hard.
- A.p.c. Chambray Shirt
- Reiss Breaker Brushed Herringbone Shirt
- J.crew Indigo-printed Cotton Shirt
- Topman Sand Skinny Suit
- Asos Skinny Fit Suit In Brown Fleck
- Topman Dark Green Tonic Skinny Suit
- River Island Blue Tweed Blazer
- Allsaints Milo Blazer
- River Island Ecru Blazer
- Marni Gabardine Cotton Chinos 162910
- He By Mango Slim-fit Premium Cotton Chinos
- Reiss Prince Fleck Print Trousers
The Part Timer
Having been a university student AND part time worker, this is a big sticking point for me, particularly when it comes to the way you dress. To cover this properly, I’ll start right from the beginning…
Your approach whilst handing out your CV (resume) – which is usually the way you get an interview in the first place – is everything. If you wander into a shop by chance, dressed like you’ve just got out of bed, and half heartedly ask “got any jobs going?” you aren’t going to get anywhere.
Make an effort to look good, seem interested and focus your job search. Write covering letters and address your interest to individual establishments. Don’t adopt the sprinkler/shotgun approach and ALWAYS ask to speak to a manager.
First impressions are ALL that matters when you apply for part time work, so give yourself a fighting chance.
If you manage to get an interview, you then need to make informed decisions based on the type of work you’re going after. If it’s bar work, some nice jeans, shoes and a shirt will serve the purpose – as long as it looks like you’ve tried you’ll be fine.
For jobs in retail, tailor your outfit to the store in question (example: sharp and refined for Reiss, trend-led and contemporary for Topman) whilst sticking to the smarter end of the spectrum.
Always remember that an interview is very different to a job. The company might well have a set dress code that calls for casual attire, but an interview is always going to be a formal occasion, so dress up, not down.
When first impressions count so much, you need to be on the ball. As we’ve seen, the suit isn’t always your best option – you need to be flexible and interpretive. Learn about the company you’re interviewing for and make informed decisions based on your situation.
Get it right and you’re well on the way to securing that dream job.
But now it’s time to let me know what you guys think. Got any thoughts or tips on what you should wear to an interview? Perhaps you have interviewed for your own company – if so, what do you look for when it comes to style and grooming?
Let us know in the comments section below…