I had coached a dozen future grads on the the most important aspects of the job interview over a 12 week course. They had already mastered resumes and cover letters, online job searching, portfolio development and a whole host of other career-related advice. The final step was preparing for a mock interview with real hiring managers who had graciously offered their time.
Most of the students arrived, well-prepared for even the toughest, seat-warming questions these interviewers had to offer. We had practiced good body language, a firm handshake, and positive attitude. We had discussed how to make every answer come back to their abilities and potential for the prospective employer. We had agreed on the appropriate attire to demonstrate their seriousness about the situation.
One of the students had deviated from the requirement. Arriving in a red, floral button down shirt and khakis, I asked a simple question, "Where is your tie?"
I got a simple response, "I don't do ties."
I shook my head knowing all my advice would not work for this particular fellow. Unsurprisingly, the review of his interview was pitiful. The guest hiring managers all gave similar notes: "lack of confidence," "not serious about the interview," "would not hire!"
This particular student did not want to put in the effort to get the most of the experience, and he could not even be bothered to dress for the part. It showed in his performance, and while I wished him the best of luck, I knew he would struggle to go further in his career.
So what exactly is the correct dress for a job interview?
It's difficult to pin down a dress code, but a suit and tie is a good bet for men regardless of the job type. You can't look "too serious" or "too important" in a job interview. Your goal is to impress those meeting you with your style, confidence, and personality. After all, at the interview stage, you should know the company is pleased with your background and experience.
If you are concerned that a suit is too formal for a particular type of job, or if you can't afford to put that much money into this sort of investment until after you've gotten the job, consider a sports coat with tie. In a pinch, even a button down shirt with tie is still considered appropriate, albeit less impressive without a coat.
Is cost the primary concern?
If you'd like to have a more formal interview outfit, but are struggling to afford it, there are plenty of options. First, plan ahead. Just because you don't have an interview lined up, doesn't mean you shouldn't have something to wear for the one that will eventually come along. Look for sales or clearance items while you shop. When you find a good deal, pick up the garment you need.
Also, consider second-hand stores. A great deal of formal and business wear is donated in excellent condition. People generally put a lot of care into this type of clothing, so even gently worn items can look quite new. Don't believe anyone who tells you that only ugly, ill-fitting clothing will be available. You can find what you need while paying significantly less and still have plenty of good-looking, stylish, and properly fitting items available.
Don't be afraid to borrow a piece of clothing - especially that tie! You should never feel too proud to ask a friend or family member to borrow a coat or a tie. After working in an environment where formal meetings arose unannounced, I can tell you several men kept an extra coat or two in the office just to share with someone caught off guard. You should be proud that you are borrowing it for a job interview. If you do have a trouble swallowing your pride, go ahead and fib. Explain that you've gained or lost a little weight. Say you left your suit at a cousin's house when you were visiting for a wedding. No one needs to know why you don't have something immediately ready.
It makes a difference
Wearing the right clothes to a job interview helps in two ways, you look better and you feel better. Prospective employers see someone who has put effort into appearance and professionalism. Sure you could be exceptionally professional while wearing your jeans and t-shirt, but you don't look professional. In a process that relies on a relatively short period, you don't have the luxury of impressing a hiring manager over the course of a series of productive meetings. You should look the part.
While you look more professional, you will notice yourself feeling more professional too. Every man who has walked down the street wearing a suit knows that people look at him differently. Formal dress gives you a boost of confidence, which is a primary ingredient to a successful job interview. Even if you're satisfied that you are bringing the right level of confidence to the interview, it doesn't hurt to have a few extra sets of eyes dart your way with an impressed glance or two.
If you didn't do ties before, I hope you see the value in wearing them at your next job interview. Dress the part, and you'll have a better experience.
For advice and more information
If you need some help while job searching or are seeking potential resources available to job seekers, see these articles.