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How to dress for a job interview: Top tips from experts

A wise man once said, “You cannot climb the ladder of success dressed in the costume of failure.”

Your attire is the first thing people notice when you walk into an interview. This makes it absolutely essential that you dress properly when you present yourself to the selection board. In fact, it will be expected of you to dress well for the interaction. A scruffy, messy or ungroomed look is guaranteed to earn you negative marks.

The other thing to keep in mind is to look the part. Different sectors have different dress codes, which complicates matters when it comes to finalizing one’s interview wardrobe. Creative jobs, for instance, have a much more relaxed dress code than the corporate sector. Some individual companies, too, have their own dress codes and what you wear is often used as a yardstick by interviewers to assess how familiar you are with the culture of the company and whether you’d be a good fit.

The bottomline is there is no overarching directive when it comes to dressing for an interview. It really depends on a number of variables like the industry, company, department and the position you are applying for. However, there are a few ground rules which exist that are non-negotiable. Those would include a well-groomed appearance, no body odor, clean, sharply pressed and well-fitted clothes, short nails, brushed hair and polished shoes.

Since choosing interview attire is never easy, a bit of expert advice is always welcome. Here are some tips from people who matter on how to dress for a job interview:

Pick horses for courses
Take the sector, company and the position you are interviewing for into account. As designer Nikasha Tawadey has said in an interview, “The norms for dressing in an advertising agency for a copywriter will be very different as compared to say a fashion stylist or a hairdresser. So, you need to figure out what works in your preferred profession.” 

Dig around to learn about the dress code
It is always a good idea to check up on the dress code before finalizing your wardrobe. Some companies specify an interview dress code in the call letter itself. Mails from Google, for instance, are known to carry the following sartorial advisory: Feel free to leave your suit at home – we’re business casual here at Google. We believe you can be serious without a suit. While we have no formal dress code, you should look presentable during the day of your interview. Business casual is fine.

Corporate jobs, however, would require you to dress differently. At global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, candidates are advised to dress as they would if they were going to meet a client, paying attention to details and taking care to avoid anything flashy. For an ad agency, on the other hand, jeans are okay, but not shorts. For creative jobs, “The rule is that you have to feel comfortable and not out of place. You need to understand what looks good on you and which colours you can manage to pull off,” designer Javed Khan has said in an interview.

The rise of business casuals
A formal dress code has been the norm when it comes to interviewing for corporate positions, but business casuals are also steadily gaining acceptance. Slacks or khakis, an open dress shirt with no tie and loafers for men; a dress or knee-length skirt-blouse with dress shoes that cover most of the foot would describe this look. Showing up in such attire may be worth the risk since it sends the message that you’ve researched the company. “I feel these days boundaries between formal and casual are blurring,” Khan has said. “You needn’t wear a pair of formal trousers. Combine raw denim with a cutaway Oxford shirt or wear the shirt with a pair of khakis and a black belt.” Take care, however, to not be excessively experimental.

Sari or skirt?
Women in India often face a dilemma when the dress code is formal since they need to choose between Indian and Western attire. Experts advise you choose the option you are most comfortable with under such circumstances. Irrespective of what you choose, the general rules are the same — sober colours, simple jewellery, no low-cut necklines and light make-up. Also, steer clear of stilettos and don’t overdo the perfume.

Choose the right colours
Creative jobs offer more leeway when it comes to colours but corporate jobs are governed by a more severe colour code. Studies have shown that red, orange and pink are intensely disliked by recruiters, while navy blue and black are preferred.   

Interview Wardrobe Dos and Don’ts

  • Stick to business-professional looks.
  • Those who dress inappropriately or too informal can be seen as having a more casual attitude toward work and authority.
  • If you aren’t comfortable in your outfit, that will come across in an interview.
  • Check out the office attire prior to showing up for the interview. If everyone at the office is wearing shorts and you arrive in a suit, you won’t fit in.
  • When in doubt, bring a jacket and carry it with you. You can throw it on if you need a more formal look or leave it off to be casual.

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