As a child, I used to watch Dad getting ready for work. He’d knot his tie with religious diligence and slip into his well-shined shoes. Whether winter or summer, he never left the house without his suit jacket. Although the days of formal work attire did make for a lot of ironing, in some ways, it made life easier. Since the world’s workplace fashion has been slowly sliding towards the casual end of the spectrum, dressing for interviews has become an awful lot trickier.
There are certainly still many offices where a crisp suit or pencil skirt is in order, but in the digital industry, these are becoming rarer. Think this means you can turn up to interviews in frayed denim cut-offs and a spaghetti-stained singlet? Not if you want to be hired. A little bit of thought and effort is required to make sure you’re suitable attired.
The generally agreed-upon rule for interviews suggests one-upping the other employees’ level of dress. These days, it’s unlikely that your potential new boss is going to be scoring you on the reflective power of your shoes. But they are trying to work out how well you’d fit in, and your outfit will contribute to this impression. Besides, when we feel like we fit in, we’re generally more at ease. And anything that helps take the stress out of an interview, has to be a good thing.
If there’s any doubt though, it seems sensible to err on the side of overdressing. The worst case of underdressing I’ve heard of involved a low-level admin job, a rather casual candidate (I suspect under duress from WINZ), and a pair of flannelette pyjamas. Needless to say, they did not get the job.
So how do you determine the dress code of the company? How far you want to go really depends on how much time you have, how much you want the job, and how much you want an excuse for a shopping spree. Here are some suggestions, ordered from ‘easy’ to ‘you’d-have-to-be-extremely- bored-or-desperate-to-ever-consider-this’.
- Ask your recruiter. If you’re smart enough to be working with a recruiter, you’ll already know that it’s a part of their job. They’ve seen the workplace, met the managers, and will know whether it’s worth getting the iron out. When it comes to interview advice, recruiters are your best friend. Although sending them changing room selfies may be a step too far.
- Ask a friend. Friends make perfect fashion spies, if you’re lucky enough to have one already working there. Or better yet, ask to see their work wardrobe.
- Check out the website and social media pages. You’ll often find office shots on social media or the careers section of company websites. While you’re there, it might be worth glancing over photos of the higher-ups, in case you should happen to share an elevator.
- Ask the company. It’s best to phrase things carefully though – you don’t want them thinking that office fashion is your main concern about the job, even if it’s true. Drop the question in casually, after you’ve arranged the interview time and place.
- Conduct reconnaissance. An option for the more uptight amongst us. And risky, because if you’re recognised, your future colleagues will think you’re rather odd. But if the office is visible from the street, and stressing over fashion disasters is going to keep you up at night, a quick walk-by will set you straight. If there aren’t any street-level windows handy, Hollywood suggests a nearby park bench, a newspaper, and a wide-brimmed hat.
- Use the power of fashion. If you’ve failed at every other option, and would give up Game of Thrones, Minecraft, beer AND chocolate if it meant you got this job, then you’ll have to prepare for multiple levels of formality. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is possible to put together an outfit to which the addition of a carefully chosen jacket takes things from quirky start-up geek, to sleek corporate. But you’re probably better off spending the time practising your answers.
So now you know what everyone else will be wearing, but there are a few other things to consider when getting together your interview gear. Most importantly – dress for the weather. When we’re cold it’s hard to think clearly, and when we’re hot, we sweat. You want to be memorable, but not because you left a damp spot on the seat.
Obviously you need to make sure your clothes are clean and wrinkle-free. And unless it’s an ensemble you wear regularly, try it on the night before to make sure it still fits and looks the way it did in your head. Test for important things like being able to sit down comfortably, excessive cleavage, beer belly overhang, or VPL.
Dressing appropriately for interviews will help you look and feel the part, but at the end of the day, it’s what’s underneath that will matter. If your skills, attitude, and personality are right for the job, your clothing will take the back seat. You’ll make the best impression when you’re clean, comfortable, and confident, but as my dad always says “It’s not a fashion parade.”