What to Wear to a Job Interview

Secrets to cracking the interview dress code.


You’ve got the interview. It’s now the night before and you’re faced with the age-old question: what do I wear? With the wide variety of dress codes among industries and even companies, the answer to this question is never an easy one. To help make it easier, we turned to Jaime Petkanics, expert career advisor and founder of the Prepary, to give us her tips on how to dress (successfully) for a job interview.Of Mercer | What to wear to a job interview

by Jaime Petkanics

One thing that people tend to stress about before an interview is what to wear. A lot of people give the advice that "you can't go wrong with a plain black suit" but I don't completely agree.

While it would be crazy to show up to an Investment Banking interview without that black suit, you'd certainly feel out of place walking into Google or Facebook with one (amongst a sea of hoodies and t-shirts).

When dressing for an interview use this rule of thumb instead: Dress & present yourself like you already work at the company, but turn it up one full notch from what you'd wear on a typical day so you look extra polished.

Why? Part of the interview process is assessing "culture fit" how you'll mesh within the work environment and approach your job day to day. While we all know how you dress has nothing to do with this, how you present yourself is part of the impression you make on your interviewers and can't be ignored.

How to find out the office dress code:

The key to all this is knowing a bit about the company culture and of course, the office dress code. If you can chat with someone who works there, that's the best case scenario.

Otherwise, check out the company's about page or careers page to get a glimpse into the culture. Many companies will even have photos or videos of their employees, and that's another opportunity to take note of what they're wearing.

What to wear based on different office dress codes:

Now, assuming you know what you're up against, here are a few suggestions I have for dressing within these different dress codes.

Business Formal
This means the black suit is in fact a good choice (or a dress with a blazer over it). While I find that it is becoming less common to have a business formal dress code, many companies still do. When interviewing in a business formal environment, the last thing you want is to be underdressed.

Business Formal Dress Suit for Women | Of Mercer

Create the perfect business formal dress suit by pairing a black suiting blazer like the Prince Blazer with a classic black sheath dress such as the Fifth Avenue.

Mix and Match Business Formal Look | Of Mercer
For a less conservative business formal look, mix and match a blazer such as the Navy Crosby Blazer with any sheath dress such as the Fifth Avenue.

Business Casual

The majority of offices fall into this type of dress code.

This means you don't need a full suit, but slacks, collared shits, skirts, dresses, blouses etc. are still preferred. Most business casual environments don't allow jeans (even if they do, never wear jeans to an interview) and generally you'll want to stay away from things that are too trendy. 

In terms of dressing for an interview at a business casual organization, you want to err on the more conservative range of options.

I suggest a somewhat conservative blouse with either more dressy pants or a skirt. A dress (not sleeveless unless you have something over it) is another easy option.

Also, if you're unsure of whether the environment is business formal or casual, it never hurts to bring a jacket with you and that will give you a chance to gauge the environment when you walk in and make a split decision.

Business Casual Dress | Of Mercer

The Thompson dress in the cobalt with covered shoulders and cool zippers is perfect for a business casual interview.

Conservative Business Casual Look | Of Mercer
The Ludlow dress with the Houston blazer over it 
strikes the perfect balance between business formal and casual if you have any uncertainty about the dress code.

If a company has a casual dress code, it means things are pretty flexible.  It doesn't mean it is a total free-for-all though.  Even if there is a casual dress code, avoid anything ripped, too short, too tight, too revealing, too trendy, etc. And still, no jeans!

Casual Shift Dress for Business | Of MercerMaster the casual (but not-too-casual) look with a simple shift dress like the Stanton dress paired with flats.  

Casual Office Look with Layering | Of Mercer

Transitioning to a casual dress code and don't have the wardrobe to match?  Take one of your business formal sheath dresses like the Madison dress and layer a casual sweater and belt (like the Cate belt) over it.  

Some other good tips for interview dressing (more on this topic here):

  • Keep the accessories simple & not distracting
  • Avoid anything wrinkled or not tailored properly
  • Don't go overboard with jewelry (i.e. don't get decked out)
  • Hair should be manageable and not "messy" - you don't want to be fidgeting with it throughout the interview
  • Think about your environment before you wear your most expensive watch, name brand bag, etc (not saying don't do it in the right environment, but it definitely can send a message)
  • If you're interviewing with a fashion brand, wear their brand or something that mirrors the brand's aesthetic

    What you are trying to do is walk through that door and already look like you work there.  And there is no one size fits all approach to that.


    Jaime PetkanicsAbout the Author: Jaime Petkanics is the Founder of The Prepary and a Job Search Consultant based in NYC. As a former Fashion & Finance industry recruiter, Jaime's goal is to share job search and career advice that is reliable, relatable, straightforward, and in touch with today's hiring landscape. Jaime works with clients throughout the country to help them land their dream jobs and internships in the fashion industry and beyond.