Finding the right attire for a job interview can be stressful. At some point in your life, someone has probably told you to “dress to impress” or “dress for the job you want, not the one you have.”
But what do these sayings actually mean? What specific items can you choose to make a good impression at your next job interview?
Truthfully, the type of clothes you should wear will largely depend on the type of job you want. However, you shouldn’t rely on this alone. Dress codes can differ from one company to another, even if these companies are hiring for the same position. Many organizations use specific terminology to dictate how you should dress for your job interview.
Dress Code Terminology
There are essentially four categories of dress in professional settings: casual, business casual, business professional, and business formal. You might be wondering, “What do these terms mean?” while flipping through the items in your wardrobe.
Read on to get a breakdown of each term, along with examples of what fits into each category.
“Casual attire” can mean different things to different people. Overall, it refers to everyday wear. However, you should still dress a little more formally than you would around the house or when you’re running errands. Make sure that all of your clothes, shoes, and accessories are clean before the interview.
Let’s consider a few examples of “casual attire” for both men and women:
“Business Casual” is one of the most common forms of interview attire. It combines the comfort of casual attire with the professionalism of more formal dress codes.
While there are no exact guidelines for business casual, it could be described as a form of casual attire that excludes jeans and tennis shoes. Business casual patterns and colors are also more conservative.
Here are a few concrete examples of “business casual” attire for men and women:
“Business professional” generally refers to suits and similar attire required for formal situations.
Most “desk jobs” in offices, board rooms, and similar workspaces will require (at minimum) business professional attire during the interview process and sometimes work hours.
Usually, if no dress code is stated for the interview, “business professional” should be your default. It looks professional and helps to make a good first impression. Business professional colors should always be conservative (dark blue, black, gray, and brown).
Let’s look at some specific examples of “business professional” attire for men and women:
“Business formal” is reserved for high-level job applicants in fields like law or executive management.
In the same way that “business casual” is a more formal version of “casual,” “business formal” is simply a more formal, tailored version of “business professional.” It consists almost entirely of tailored suits and pantsuits of black, gray, or navy.
In any case, consider some examples of “business formal” attire for men and women:
How Dress Codes Vary by Organization Type
Some organizations have a strict dress code, while others are relatively lax. Figuring out what kind of attire an organization expects its employees (and job applicants) to wear can be as simple as Googling the name of the organization.
However, not every business or start-up has this kind of information available online. Thankfully, many organizations tend to conform to the standards set in years past, which makes it a little easier to plan your wardrobe in advance.
Here are a few common types of organizations and their respective dress codes:
Do Your Research Before the Interview
Ultimately, every business or organization has different dress code standards. Even if you’re applying for the same position at two different organizations, you may need to dress a little differently for each respective interview.
If you’re still unsure what to wear for your next job interview, don’t be afraid to ask. Tell your recruiter or interviewer that you would like a little information about the expected dress code for the interview.
When in doubt about their expectations, don’t be afraid to overdress. You may feel a little silly wearing business professional attire to an interview that only requires business casual attire, but it will likely have little or no effect on your ability to secure the job.
Alternatively, if you underdress for an important interview, you probably won’t make a very good impression. So, make sure to do your research and know what to wear to a job interview - this will put you on the right path to landing the job of your dreams!
Check out our interview advice video for more tips on figuring out what to wear to a job interview, including ways you can research the dress code before you even step foot in the office!
Real-World Dress Code Examples
To give you a better idea of what to expect, here are a few real-world dress code examples from some of the largest companies in the world: