Posted on September 02 2020
We loved speaking with Roxanne Carne, a recognized Personal Stylist about how to dress for interviews. Roxanne is passionate about transforming women’s wardrobes and their lives. She partners with her clients (in-person and virtually across North America) to develop winning wardrobes that align how they look with how they feel – beautiful, intelligent, and confident. Follow along for how to dress for various types of interviews whether it's a formal business environment or a more casual business environment, Roxanne walks us through different outfits that we can wear. She also teaches us the KISS method!
Nail Your Interview Look
Ladies, let’s face it – when you think about job interviews, you’re probably filled with a bit of anxiety, uneasiness, or even fear. And like it or not, it’s something that many of us have to experience a few times in our lifetime!
But when it comes to interviewing, you need to realize that visual communication (how you look and how you carry yourself) is equally as important as what you have to say.
As a Personal Stylist (whose first 15+ year career was in Human Resources/Recruiting), I know firsthand how much value is placed on how you look in the business world as well as how much life success can be achieved by always looking your best.
As such, I’m happy to share core, modern fundamentals that will help you dress your best for business formal, business casual, and virtual interviews.
Know Your Audience
Before we dive into what to wear, I want to share this first point which cannot be emphasized enough. When prepping your interview look, it’s imperative that you know your audience – in this case, the business and the key players you’ll meet. This is important because not only do you want to look the part for the position you’re interviewing for, but you also want your look to align with the style of the firm. Now that doesn't necessarily mean that you have to forsake your own personal style, but having a cohesive look that aligns with the environment you’re interviewing for literally shows that you’ll fit right in.
Here are some quick & easy ways to do this:
- Leverage the recruiter you’re working with – your recruiter is a gold mine of info when it comes to understanding a company’s work environment. Tap into their insights as to how people dress across various position levels and business groups. Believe me, dress codes can certainly vary within one organization.
- Leverage social media – many companies and their leaders have rich social media content showcasing their mission, culture, work environment. While this content provides great info you should know and consider for your career move, take a close look at what their employees are wearing day-to-day. This will give you great “behind-the-scenes” insight on the company’s dress code and overall style.
- Research the people you’re interviewing with – whenever possible, check out profiles of the major players you’ll be interacting with during your interview process. See what they’re wearing in posted company event pics, webinars, YouTube vidoes - anything that’s publicly available that highlights how they dress everyday.
Insights from these key sources will help you decide how to best dress for your interview.
KISS – Keep it Smart & Simple
You know the saying, “Less is more?” I firmly believe that definitely applies to interview attire. It’s best to KISS – Keep it Smart & Simple. Your clothing should tastefully highlight your best assets in terms of color, cut, and style. Your attire should never be a distraction; rather, it should always allow you to be the star of the show.
Formal Business Environment
Here are my styling recommendations on what to wear when interviewing with a company that has a formal business culture & environment.
While formal business suits for everyday workwear are becoming less prevalent in many modern-day working environments, it still very much an expectation for more formal business environments (including law firms, banking & finance, and commercial real estate).
When interviewing with traditional, conservative firms and industries, you can never go wrong wearing a well-tailored suit in neutral colors such as ivory, dark brown, black, navy, or gray. For full suits, I recommend staying within this color palette because if you go too bold with other colors, it can visually consume you and be distracting to those you interact with. Rather, you can incorporate a pop of color with a lovely cami, blouse, and/or scarf to complement your suite. ‘Power’ pant suits always look amazing, but you can opt for a stylish skirt suit as well.
Blouse & Dark Tailored Pants or Pencil Skirt
Another ‘KISS’ outfit for formal business environments is pairing a smart blouse with dark tailored pants or a pencil skirt. For a sophisticated look, select a blouse that’s made from natural fibers (such as silk) that allow for movement and flow. These fabrics breathe, keep your body temperature regulated, and can help you prevent nervous sweats!
Also, play with elegant neck lines such as a boat neck or asymmetrical neckline for a different look. A look like this can project a perfect balance of boldness and sophistication. If you choose to wear a solid color, be sure it’s in your color palette (otherwise, it’ll be too overwhelming); or if you decide to wear a pattern, wear a medium- or small-scale pattern so it that it doesn’t distract from you.
On your bottom half, pair your top with a smart pair of well-tailored dark pants or a pencil skirt (which is flattering for pretty much all body types). Remember, we want to keep things smart & simple!
Dresses are especially easy to wear for interviews because they are pretty much one-and-done! I recommend a classic sheath dress, preferably with a capped, ¾ length, or long sleeve (these styles are a great way to avoid having to layer a jacket over the dress). Sleeveless sheath dresses are lovely, but I wouldn’t recommend going sleeveless to a business formal interview. Darker, solid colors work well here, but a thin pinstripe could work well, too!
Great dress options can be found with the Maggy London brand.
Well-appointed accessories pieces such as jewelry, scarves, and/or handbags are a great way to highlight your personal style while adding a certain panache to your overall look. You can have fun with different colors and patterns (again, as long as it’s not too overwhelming). Remember that accessories should tastefully accent your look.
It’s no secret that one of the first things people notice when they meet you for the first time is your shoes! Your shoes can certainly make a lasting impression. Don’t ruin a wonderfully styled interview look with shoes that aren’t in the best shape or are uncomfortable – this can be an ultimate distraction for you and your audience!
Cap off your look with a beautiful pair of shoes. A sleek pump is certainly the best way to go because it is truly classic and looks great with everything! I’m in love with ALLY pumps due to their beautiful designs, colors, and textures coupled with total comfort. These shoes will complete your outfit and make you look and feel like a boss during your interviews!
Contemporary Casual Separates
I recommend pairing contemporary separates for business casual environments. Pieces that work well for interviewing in this space include fun jackets, cardigans, nice blouses (or shells), knit tops, and comfortable pants or skirts. These options offer flexibility for mixing & matching as well as layering.
A benefit to interviewing in a business casual environment is that you can be a little more adventurous with colors and patterns since the setting is less formal. Now keep in mind that you don’t want to go too casual or party-like. You should still be discerning and select tasteful, quality pieces that don't detract from you.
I recommend sheath dresses here again because they’re extremely flattering. Shift dresses may work, depending on the style, but they often tend to be more casual in nature which wouldn’t be the best choice for an interview.
As with formal business interviewing, keep your accessories stylish and tasteful and don’t go overboard. 😉
Once again, ALLY pumps are at the top of the list for rounding your business casual look. Pumps are so versatile because they can be dressed up or down.
With business casual looks, however, you have more shoe options available such as sandals, ballet flats, pointy-toed flats, and ankle booties. Shoes, too, can serve as an accent piece so choose a pair that not only completes you overall look, but also represents your personality and style.
With the pandemic taking its toll over the past several months, many businesses had to shift how they do business – including how they conduct interviews! These days, it’s not uncommon to experience your job interviews virtually via Zoom.
Again, you’ll want to keep your audience in mind when determining what to wear. With that being said, I’m finding that even the most formal business cultures are starting to be more flexible with how they dress online since most employees are working from home. So be sure to know your audience, understand how they’re dressing online, and develop your interview look accordingly.
Since the virtual environment is more visually compact, focus your interview look on the upper half of your body. This is great opportunity to experiment with fun tops that serve up interesting necklines or have interesting patterns or colors. A word of caution though – don't go too crazy with patterns because they can be very distracting onscreen. Remember that we want to keep the focus on YOU.
Select sophisticated jewelry to accent your look and I’d recommend wearing no more than two pieces (like earrings and a necklace or a necklace or bracelet). Keep it Smart and Simple!
For more helpful tips on how to show up for video meetings, check out my article on How to Rock Your Video Conferences in Style.
Show Up for YOURSELF
I want to share one final thought with you. Throughout the interview process, whether it’s in-person or virtual, always always ALWAYS show up for yourself. Your personal image is so important and when you look great, you feel great. Always put careful thought into how you present for critical events in your life such as this. You’ll inherently be in a better position to share your value and what you have to offer (because you’ll already know you look amazing). I promise you, putting your best foot forward visually will take you a long way in life.
In closing, I’ll leave you with a quote I love to share with every woman I know. It’s from the late costume designer Edith Head and it’s so relevant to all of us… ”You can have anything in life if you dress for it.”
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