A Man's Guide to Dressing for a Job Interview

Few things on this earth are as mind-numbingly nerve-wracking as a job interview. Four years of college and two years of grad school do plenty to prepare you to work at your first big job, but they do very little to prepare you to land that job. Landing your dream job takes more than just the right qualifications. It takes the right attitude and appearance. Although the data isn’t as bad as once thought, the truth is that interviewers make snap decisions about your suitability for the job you’re interviewing for from the moment you walk in through the door, which means that dressing for a job interview may be one of the most important fashion decisions of your life.

The Basic Tenant: Dress to Impress

Although you might not need a three-piece suit to interview at a McDonalds, a general rule for job interviews is that you should dress for the job you want, not the job you currently have or even the job you’re interviewing for.

What does this mean? It does not mean that if your ultimate goal is to be retired, you can show up for a job interview in pajamas. What it does mean is that if you ever want to be considered for a professional role, you first need people to think of you as a professional—and that starts with the clothes you wear.

In the first seven seconds of interaction with you, people make eleven judgments about who you are as a person, from your education level to your socioeconomic status. These snap judgments are based on very few facts. Instead, they’re gleaned from the way you present yourself, from your clothes to your speech patterns. Although these initial judgments may be rewritten as people get to know you, presenting the right front first can put you ahead on the road to success. So, while it’s great to dress with office culture in mind, if you’re feeling at all uncertain about what to wear, you’re better off dressing too nicely than not nice enough.

A Man’s Guide to Clothes

Your outfit should begin with the slacks that you’re going to wear. They should fit you well and be comfortable to wear. Job interviews can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, which means that squeezing into an ill-fitting pair of dress pants from your high school graduation probably isn’t your best bet.

Your belt, shoes, and socks should all match each other, so if the only dress shoes you own are a pair of brown loafers, you need to match them with a brown leather belt and a pair of brown dress socks. The devil is in the detail when it comes to dressing nicely. Forget the belt or accidentally wear your track socks with your dress shoes and you go from looking like a potential professional businessman to looking like a kid playing dress-up in your dad’s closet. 

When it comes to your job interview, less is more. This means that if you’re wearing a patterned Oxford shirt, you should wear a solid-colored tie; and if you’re wearing a patterned tie, you should wear a solid-colored dress shirt. Either way, your clothes should be devoid of notable graphics. This isn’t the time to show off your devotion to nerd-culture with your Dr. Who tie unless you happen to be interviewing at a Game Stop. Stick with the basics, and save your fun, personalized ties for when you actually get the job.

A Man’s Guide to Cleanliness

There are dos and don’ts to cleaning up for a job interview. The biggest one is to be sure that you shower before you go in for your interview. You want to smell and look fresh, not like you just rolled out of bed and tugged on some clothes. This is a day to shave your face and wash and comb your hair.

As you’re cleaning up, however, keep in mind that not everyone loves the smell of cologne. What you think is a scent of pure masculinity and cleanliness may be your interviewer’s worst nightmare. Scent aversions and allergies are very real. The last thing you want is for your interviewer to not hear a word you’re saying during the interview because all they can think about is ushering you out and ushering a bottle of Advil Migraine in. When it comes to the interview—or work in general—leave the cologne at home. Your goal is not to “smell great”; rather, your goal is for your interviewer to not notice your scent at all.

A Man’s Guide to Tidiness

Just as wearing the wrong socks will make you look inept, so will wearing your clothes incorrectly set you apart as a man who is not quite ready for the business world. On the day of your interview, make sure your clothes are all neatly pressed. Ironing might feel old-fashioned, and it certainly wouldn’t have gained you any friends back in college, but keep in mind that your interviewer might be old enough to be your mom—or even your grandmother—and pull out the ironing board for this one.

Similarly, your shirt needs to be tucked in during the interview. If you’re wearing a jacket, it should be buttoned—at least most of the way. If you’re going to have any buttons undone, it should be the bottom button on your jacket. Having your jacket buttoned all the way gives a more professional appearance, which may be particularly helpful if this is your first interview out of college while leaving the bottom button undone shows a more relaxed nature and may portray confidence in an older interviewer. Regardless of how your jacket is buttoned to start the interview, keep in mind that it is perfectly acceptable to unbutton your jacket once you sit down.

Before you leave your house, and again before you walk into the interview, double-check the basics. Ensure your fly is up and your collar is down. Straighten your tie, check your hair, and make sure your belt buckle lies just over your zipper. With everything in its place, you’re ready to present yourself as a man.