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What to wear to a job interview?

Does this sound familiar, "When dressing for an interview it is important to present the best image possible to a potential employer."?

That is the standard answer to the question of, 'What to wear to an interview?' But what the hell does that even mean? Best image according to whom? My personal best image involves a t-shirt, cargo shorts, and some flip-flops; or at least that is how I prefer to picture myself. Of course that mental image also involves a beachside outdoor bar and a gaggle of Playmates laughing at my jokes.

Hrm...maybe we should define this best image idea a bit more.

Dress for Success

Why do people dress up? We put on our Sunday best because our society has associated a well dressed, well groomed individual as a person who is more successful, well mannered, and generally more attractive on multiple levels. Let's skip the sociology lesson right now about whether that is proper or not and just agree that it is what it is.

Because of that basic idea of perception it stands to reason that if you want to be successful then you should dress for success. That means that there is a bare minimum dress code for any job interview that must always be maintained and will go up depending on the job type, company hiring, and wage you will be paid. With that dress code should be a solid level of hygiene and grooming to make yourself as impressive as possible.

So, what do you wear?

The absolute minimum should be a long-sleeve dress shirt (with a white undershirt), slacks, dress shoes, a dress belt, and some dark socks. A nice watch is an acceptable accessory. That's it. It doesn't matter if you are applying to Wal-mart, McDonald's, or as an intern to a small company; if you want to be seen in the best light that is there bare minimum.

The next appropriate layers to add are a jacket (suit or sports coat) and tie. Depending on the particular company khakis might be substituted for slacks but never when wearing a jacket or tie. Generally if you are applying for lower wage positions where the manager who is interviewing you is wearing khakis then it is acceptable to wear them as well.

General rule of thumb; always dress as well as the person interviewing you if not better. It is very easy to make a casual joke about being overdressed like, "Well thank goodness I didn't wear my tux!" But people really don't want to hear some other sort of joke about why you showed up in jeans, sneakers, and your AC/DC t-shirt (regardless of how hard you rock that look).

How do you know what to wear ahead of time? Do some research! Swing by the company at lunch and check out what people are wearing as they come in and out of the building. Then try and go one notch higher than the average person to put yourself above them.

Get it Tailored

One thing every guy should own is a tailored black suit (dark blue works as a great 2nd option). It is a multipurpose item you can always use in your wardrobe. Ideally you will want a new suit every five years or so for style and wear issues. The tailored suit naturally looks better on you and there is an inherit confidence you get when you suit up in custom threads because you know you look good. That suit can be mix and matched with a variety of shirts and ties for a lot of versatility.

Always check the shoes and belt as well. You want a nice shiny pair of fashionable shoes with a belt that has matching material and sheen. The belt shouldn't be overly worn and used as that looks a bit cheap. Skip the fashionable 'dress-sneakers' and any other trendy stuff that screams hipster; you can show more of your style after you get hired.

If you aren't sure if a tie is too much then always wear the tie. Worst case scenario is you take it off after arriving if nobody in the office is wearing a tie. That is a simple maneuver you can make in the bathroom.

Even if you don't have tailored clothes they should fit properly. Never wear too short, too long, too tight, or overly baggy clothes. None of those looks are good ones. Make sure whatever you are wearing that it is ironed, wrinkle-free, and lint/hair free. Downey wrinkle-release is a life-saver.

Colors and Matching

Always ask a friend (preferably a person who you think dresses well) to look at your outfits with a critical eye. Certain colors look good on you and other won't. You should always wear your best colors. Personally I feel that black slacks, shoes, and belt are the way to go. Then it is just a matter of matching up a shirt and tie (if wearing it) and then adding some stylish socks. That look is classic, fashionable, and professional. Those are all qualities you want people to consider you having when you meet them.

But what if...

Any questions you might have can be answered rather simply. If you aren't very fashionable or in very high-demand then don't do it. If you are really fashionable then you aren't reading this and if you are in high-demand then it doesn't matter if you walk in a wearing flip-flops and shorts because people will be tossing money at you to lure you to them. People sometimes make weird choices in an effort to stand out but unless you are blessed with great natural style just don't do it.

Final thoughts

What to wear to an interview is not about just clothes. Yes you should follow all the rules we gave you but you also need to feel good and know you look good which adds confidence. Just like when going on a date, confidence in the interview room helps lead to success; that is one accessory you always want to wear.