What to Wear: To an Interview, and Beyond

Maura Mann, Vice President
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We’ve heard them all before:

  • Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
  • You only have one chance to make a first impression.
  • When in doubt, always dress up.

All of these are still true, but here is the biggest piece of advice I like to give to our candidates:

Dress for the company, and for yourself.

The way to nail the dress code for an interview is to know first and foremost what you’re walking into.

Candidates who are partnered with a staffing firm, like BANKW Staffing for instance, are prepped before they ever go in to meet with a client company and their hiring managers. We try to meet with every single candidate and company we work with, and the biggest reason for that is to successfully match the two – from dress code to general office environment.

You can tell a lot about a place and a person by the way they look at first glance.

If, as the candidate, you feel like you’re having to dress outside of our comfort zone or it’s completely unnatural for you, chances are that might not be the best work environment for you to be in.

Second and Third Interview Advice: Mirror Match

The general piece of advice for things like second and third interviews, and once you land the job, is to mirror match.

If you’re the only one wearing leggings – public service announcement: please, don’t wear leggings – you should notice that fairly quickly and adjust accordingly. Or, if you’re wearing a suit jacket every day and everyone else around you is in polos and t-shirts, consider dressing more like them. Companies, and the people who work for them, are looking for people who are like them, and that includes the way they dress.

If you overdress for an interview, it can actually work against you. So many first impressions are based on appearance, as unfortunate as that might be, and if you are overdressed it can be interpreted as you being overqualified or assumed that you won’t stay in the position long if something better comes along. It all goes back to it being the right fit all around (no pun intended) for both parties.

But! It is a good idea to dress one degree nicer than you might normally for the interview process and for the first two weeks on the job. This is because of the exposure you will be getting to people you might not usually encounter if you were to get the job. Once you’re hired, managers might take you around to meet executives or bring you along for meetings and you want to make sure you are dressed for those occasions or can easily dress up what you have on. You can also expect executives or other managers to stop by your desk in the first couple of weeks of being hired – everyone likes to say hi to the new person! – which is also why it’s nice to dress a notch above.

Once You’ve Landed the Job: The Staples

I always say you can’t go wrong with the staples of a neutral or dark-colored suit jacket and a good pair of shoes. The best part: This piece of advice applies to both men and women.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “a good pair of shoes” can mean a little something different to everyone, but what I mean by that is not tattered, appropriate for most every workplace – like, not open toed or a tennis shoe – and a pair you can wear with several different outfits. The more neutral the article of clothing – jacket, shoes, shirt – the less obvious it will be when you have to wear it again for a second interview, a meeting, or over and over again once you’re actually in the job.

Neutral items also allow you to pair them with other clothing items to dress them up, down or look totally different all together.

The Biggest Blunders: Don’t Dress Like This

The biggest mistake we see women make when dressing for an interview or on the job is clothes or accessories that are loud or otherwise really distracting. Don’t let your necklace be the most memorable part about you. Let your personality and skill set do the talking. When in doubt, ask yourself if someone will be paying more attention to what you have on, or to what you’re saying.

For men, the classic mistake is not having a suit that fits. Don’t let it look like you’re wearing your dad’s suit jacket. There are so many options out there to get something that is affordable, so I always say, make the initial investment and get a suit that fits.

Bonus tip! Think about what you smell like, too. It’s never a good idea to smell like smoke, or to wear too much cologne or perfume. This is another universal piece of advice that applies to both men and women and ties back into you being memorable, not what you dress – or smell – like.

Maura Mann is the Vice President of The Nagler Group, a BANKW Staffing company focused on the placement of Human Resources, Legal and Administrative professionals on a temporary, temporary-to-hire and permanent basis.

Maura has been in the staffing and recruiting industry for 15 years. In that time, she has conducted thousands of interviews personally and overseen the hiring of equally as many candidates.